On December 16, migrant workers and organizers from Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC) visited the Shediac office of Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc to deliver a letter asking him to support permanent residency status for all in Canada. Migrant rights organizers say that such a move would benefit approximately 1.7 million migrants in Canada, including 500,000 undocumented people and their families.
Dominic LeBlanc represents a region of the province with some of the highest numbers of low-wage temporary foreign workers. The workers are employed in the province’s seafood processing plants.
LeBlanc is also the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and is one of the fourteen federal Ministers in the Cabinet Committee on Economy, Inclusion and Climate “B” that are meeting to discuss who and how many people will be granted residency status.
“We are asking the ministers to give equal rights for all the migrants; workers, students. We want all migrants to be included, no caps and no exclusion,” explained Niger Saravia, an organizer with MWAC to staff at the Minister’s office.
LeBlanc was in Ottawa and not available to meet with MWAC and the migrant workers but that did not deter the group from delivering the letter and making a statement outside his office. They held signs that said, “Status for all!,” “No exclusions. Regularize everyone!”
Saravia further explained to LeBlanc’s staff, “A year ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in the Mandate Letter sent to Immigration, said that he was going to regularize immigrants, and he hasn’t done it yet. This marks one year of that. It’s a reminder that we are here, and we are going to be here until you guys do something about it.”
One of the migrant workers who wishes to not be named added, “It’s not easy to be here working and have no rights.”
The letter, endorsed by hundreds of organizations across Canada and signed by organizations in New Brunswick such as the Madhu Verma Migrant Justice Centre and the Filipino-Canadian CommUNITY of New Brunswick, asks the federal government to treat all migrants equally and consider the undocumented people, mostly racialised, low-waged, and often women, in their plan to regularize the status of people in Canada.
Migrants have often been praised as the lifeblood of the Canadian economy, paying taxes and services. However, more than a million of them do not have equal labour rights or access to the same kinds of social services such as health care provided to Canadian citizens and permanent residents.
Migrant justice advocates say that regularization, ensuring permanent residency for all migrants, will improve labour conditions as employers will not be able to easily threaten workers with deportations, making it more difficult to hire workers informally or for cash payment, forcing employers to follow existing regulations.
Considered key to economic growth and labour mobility, regularization programs have been implemented by 24 of the 27 member states of the European Union from 1996 to 2008, affecting an estimated 5.5 to 6 million people.
The number of migrant workers coming to New Brunswick has increased over the years. According to Statistics Canada, in 2021, there were 3,628 people working under the federal Temporary Foreign Workers Program in New Brunswick’s agriculture and agri-food sector.
One of the migrant workers outside LeBlanc’s office was an elementary school teacher in Mexico before coming to work at a lobster plant in Shediac as a temporary foreign worker in 2021. She holds a closed work permit which means she cannot switch employers if she wishes.
She gets paid $17 an hour and works 10 hours a day without any day off during busy summer months.
“They don’t treat you well. They shout. You’re like not human for them,” said the worker whose employer is also her landlord. The employer deducts her rent from her wages.
“They are going to the house and they check how you live, how you clean, everything. You cannot have visitors there.….If you get sick, they’ll say take a pill and come to work. It’s hard to ask them to take you to the doctor. They don’t want to lose time with that kind of thing. Because that’s time for them that you’re not working,” she said.
In the spring of 2022, the worker applied and got a six-month open work permit through a government program for workers who experience or are at risk of abuse by their employers.
Today, the woman interviewed works 12 hours a day for a vegetable food-processing company that pays her less but she has days off and she says she is better treated. Unfortunately, her open work permit has expired.
“The open work permit for vulnerable workers is not renewable. Once you get it and it’s expired, you’re in limbo… We have talked to a lot of workers in the same situation,” explained Sonia Aviles, another organizer from MWAC.
According to Aviles, the majority of undocumented people lose their work permit or status due to various reasons, including the immigration system that is so deficient and behind.
The workers choose to stay in Canada because their families back home depend on their income as they struggle with security issues and climate change that disproportionately affect poor communities and farmers.
According to Saravia, “At the end of the day, the government knows that all these abuses are happening, but they’re not doing anything.”
Aviles added, “The government has shown that they can give people permanent residency status. They just refused to do it because, of course, there is a lot of economic power. A lot of employers don’t want this to happen because they want a labour force that they can dispose of. They don’t want people to have full rights because people that have permanent residency have more freedom. It’s about people having full rights.”
Aviles wants everyone to be included in the regularization plan, including international students who pay two or three times as much in tuition.
“We’re focusing on all migrants because they all have one thing in common. They come to Canada with temporary permits that make them easily exploitable,” said Aviles.
LETTER FOR EQUAL RIGHTS FOR ALL:
Minister Hon. Dominic LeBlanc
Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs,
Infrastructure and Communities
Shediac, New Brunswick, Canada
328 Main Street Suite 1
Shediac NB E4P 2E3
December 16, 2022
Dear Minister Dominic LeBlanc,
New Brunswick is a growing center of migrants from around the world. More people are coming to our province on temporary permits – as migrant workers and international students. Many of them, however, are not be able to access permanent residency, and make the difficult decision to stay in Canada as undocumented residents. Undocumented people live and work in New Brunswick, but are unable to access basic services, or assert their rights at work, or when they face exploitation. You have an opportunity right now to support a regularization program that would ensure justice, equality and fairness for all residents of New Brunswick.
On December 16, 2021, Prime Minister Trudeau made a mandate letter commitment to create a regularization program for undocumented residents and ensure permanent residency for migrant workers and students. The federal government is currently consulting with all provinces and territories, including New Brunswick. Following this consultation, a proposal will be sent to Cabinet, starting with the Cabinet Committee on Economy, Inclusion and Climate “B”.
We are migrant organizations, immigration services, labour unions and civil society organizations based in New Brunswick. We are writing to you to today to support a comprehensive and inclusive regularization program which ensures:
- All 500,000 undocumented people in Canada and their families (without exclusions of any kind) are given permanent residency;
- All undocumented people must be able to apply for permanent residency, and be issued work and study authorizations as they await processing of their permanent residency applications;
- An immediate stop to detentions and deportations so that migrants are not deported before they can apply; and free and accessible applications; and
- Ongoing regularization so that those that become undocumented in the future can get permanent resident status. The entire immigration system must be transformed to ensure permanent resident status for all migrants so that no one becomes undocumented in the future.
We support the proposal developed by Migrant Rights Network: www.migrantrights.ca/resources/regularization-in-canada.
There is unanimous support for this approach to regularization. Almost every major civil society, labour, health and environmental organization has joined the call for full and permanent immigration status for all – nearly 500 organizations. Major organizations from across Canada have also written letters to PM Trudeau supporting this regularization proposal.
Permanent resident status is the mechanism through which all other rights are accessed. By supporting a comprehensive regularization program, New Brunswick would:
- Address a historic wrong: A comprehensive program would ensure that you are remembered for supporting life-altering public policy, which corrects an historic wrong. A fair society with equal rights is only possible if everyone has the same immigration status.
- Be part of ending systemic racism and ensuring gender equality: Undocumented people are mostly racialized, low-waged people, often women. Ensuring rights and access for them is part of implementing anti-racist policy and gender equality.
- Ensure improved labour conditions: Employers of undocumented workers threaten them with deportations to stop them from asserting their rights. This abuse results in overall worsening of working conditions in the labour market. While bad employers prosper, good employers who may be unable or unwilling to hire workers informally or for cash payments are excluded.
- Ensure public health: Undocumented migrants often do not access healthcare until it is absolutely necessary due to the cost. By the time they do, their health conditions are much more complicated, and the burden on the healthcare system is much higher.
- Create more effective social policy: Currently, there are no reliable statistics on undocumented people in Canada. An inclusive regularization program will ensure that non-status people enter into everyday life, allowing for more informed and effective social policy to be created.
- Grow the economy at greater rates than cost of processing or settlement services: Most non-status people pay taxes but their employers, many of whom are very profitable businesses, do not pay statutory remittances. Regularizing 500,000 undocumented people will increase employer CPP and EI contributions by at least $1.1 billion, just in the first year. As undocumented people acheive stability through permanent residence, they will lay down roots, purchase assets of greater value, and spend more on Main Street.
- Create labour mobility to address shortages where they exist: Undocumented people live and work here. Many are in cash-based jobs, or are under or unemployed. Regularizing all undocumented migrants will increase their labour mobility, unlocking their skills and experience enabling them to move and take on whichever jobs have openings.
- Build on best practices around the world: Between 1996 and 2008, 24 of the 27 EU Member States implemented regularization programs, and some several times. An estimated 5.5 to 6 million people were regularized in that time. The largest programs were the Italian 2002 program that regularized 634,000 people and the Spanish 2005 program that regularized 578,375 people. Ireland regularized almost all undocumented people in the country this year who met a basic residency requirement.
Please contact Niger Saravia email@example.com | 506-251-7467 if you have any follow-up questions regarding regularization.
Thank you in advance for your support and consideration.
Organizer | Cell: 506 251 7467
Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
Organizations that have endorsed the letter for equal rights for all:
Filipino CommUNITY of New Brunswick (FCNB)
Madhu Verma Migrant Justice Centre
Hola New Brunswick
National Farmers Union in New Brunswick
Asian Heritage Society of New Brunswick