According to Canadian Immigration and Citizenship, 1,750 temporary foreign workers came to New Brunswick in 2011. These workers included higher skilled professionals, lower skilled labourers and live-in care givers. Temporary foreign workers face a number of barriers with regards to obtaining permanent residency status, accessing basic social services and having their rights respected.
Temporary foreign workers can apply for permanent residency through most provinces’ provincial nominee programs, provided they have six months to two years work experience in the intended occupation and intended province of settlement. Preference is given to foreign students with post-secondary educations received in Canada, people with Canadian work experience, those with family connections to Canada or those who have an entrepreneurial background and capital.
Those who identify as low-skilled upon their arrival are effectively shut out of the opportunity to become permanent residents of Canada. In 2007, according to government statistics highlighted by the Canadian Council for Refugees, 44 percent of female temporary foreign workers were ineligible for permanent residency because they were doing lower skilled labour and did not have skilled work experience.
While some temporary foreign workers can gain permanent residency status by working in certain sectors identified by each province’s nominee program (ex. tourism and hospitality, food processing and long haul trucking), agricultural work falls outside the route to permanent residency in any of the provincial nominee programs.
The federal government’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SWAP) is responsible for bringing in lower-skilled agricultural workers. Most of these workers are “borrowed” from the Caribbean and Mexico typically for a period of 6 months after which time the workers must then return to their home countries.
The struggle to gain permanent residency is far from the only challenge facing temporary agricultural workers. In an interview with Rabble Radio on Sept. 17, 2009, Eddie Huesca with the Guelph, Ontario-based migrant justice group, Fuerza/ Puwerza said he witnessed firsthand how migrant farm workers in Ontario were not given proper protective gear for pesticide spraying and as a result had pesticide exposure burns. He also noticed migrant farm workers’ reluctance to bring up health and safety concerns with their employers for fear of being sent back home. “Workers who come here illegally have no status, no rights, no access to social services, live in secret and live in fear of deportation,” said Huesca.
Additionally, there are several documented cases of economically desperate migrants being abused by recruiters who charge steep recruiting fees and use false information [Ciarula Taylor, Toronto Star, July 20, 2009]. Migrant workers who are not able to get an offer of employment in Canada sometimes have no other choice but to come to the country as an undocumented worker, which is a very precarious route. Huesca notes that the route to immigration through economic need is not currently available in Canada.
Besides entering Canada as a worker, entrepreneur or student who contributes to Canadian corporate and state coffers, immigrants can enter Canada in a program that reunites them with family members with status in Canada or as political refugees. However, according to the immigrant justice group, No One is Illegal, the Canadian government is reducing family class immigration by 15 percent, which is estimated to reduce the number of spouses and children immigrating to Canada by 4,000 per year. Immigrant rights advocates blast the increasing restrictions being placed on these programs by the Harper government. They say that Canada is inhumanely closing its borders and deporting people who are seeking escape from torture and murder because of political repression in their home countries.
Huesca says that whether people are driven to migrate by the point of a gun or by their stomachs, both are legitimate reasons to be granted sanctuary in Canada.