The Plight of Migrant Workers

Hessed Torres in a CBC news interview about the rights of live-in caregivers
Hessed Torres in a CBC news interview about the rights of live-in caregivers

In recent years Citizenship and Immigration Canada has been shutting its doors on migrant workers. The Conservative government has made immigrating to Canada more and more difficult for working people, while expanding the numbers and restricting the rights of their temporary foreign worker programs. This approach plays off an unstable global economy, takes advantage of the desperation of workers from the global south, and undermines the strength of workers movements in Canada by dividing non-resident from resident workers.

Under the “4-in-and-4-out” policy that was implemented in 2011, thousands of employees within the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) were sent tearfully packing as they were forced to return to their country of origin beginning April of this year. Essentially, this policy allows migrant workers to stay in Canada for a maximum of four years, and then forces them to leave the country and stay out for another four years before re-entering.

This rule was designed to “put Canadians first” in the context of employment but will likely put many foreign workers underground. Despite working and contributing to Canada’s economy, these workers who were waiting for the approval of their permanent residency application had not been given consideration and were asked to leave.

Migrant advocacy groups believe these policies are inhumane and racist because they isolate and target visible minorities from Latin America and Southeast Asia, and Africa. All of these workers come from a nationality of color. Proof of this can be observed through the Live-In Caregiver Program that was overhauled when new rules took effect on November 30, 2014. The most hard-hit by these changes are young, Filipina women who work raising Canadian children and caring for the elderly and the sick.

If a caregiver is unemployed, they must inevitably stay this way until their potential employer finishes a government-run approval process called the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), which can take up to six months. This leaves these workers destitute and, at times, homeless during the waiting period. If these foreign nannies work before the LMIA grants them the proper documents, it is a ground for deportation.

Over the last few years, Canadian immigration has churned out what can be considered a revolving door of cheap, flexible and exploitable labour. Yet, migrant workers are willing to put their lives on the line just to work in this country. These workers have had to leave behind their families in order to simply bring food to their table. They are often the subject of racial slurs and are considered to be stealing jobs from Canadians. Yet, these workers continue to work diligently despite the uncertainty of their circumstances.

The global recession that broke out in 2007 has affected the job security of many people in Canada, but other countries – particularly those in the global south who temporary foreign worker programs target – have been much harder hit. The solution to unemployment, worsening working conditions and security, and cuts to social programs in Canada will not be found in pointing at migrant workers who are also victims of an oppressive system. Instead of deporting and excluding migrant workers from labour struggles in Canada, the solution to the struggles for wages and job security that are shared (to different degrees) by both resident and non-resident workers might be found in joining these struggles together.

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