Status for Asylum Seekers and Migrant Workers

Permanent Residency for All Migrant Workers as a Pathway to Full Citizenship!

"The COVID-19 pandemic reveals how foreign migrant workers contribute to Canada's economy and society by doing the jobs that too few Canadians want. Their work ensures that our food industry thrives, that young, elderly, and at-risk Canadians receive proper care, and that families have much-needed support," KAIROS Migrant Justice Coordinator Connie Sorio, a leading advocate for migrant rights in Canada, writes in a May 7 article in the Hill Times.

She considers the action taken by Portugal as "an effort to safeguard everyone's health and safety." She writes, "Portugal took the unprecedented step of granting migrants, including migrant workers, resident status during the pandemic, and providing full access to health care and social services." She is also of the opinion that Canada must do the same, but "could go one step further and grant all overseas workers permanent resident status."

Sorio recalls that in Canada, until the 1960s, "workers from abroad who filled labour shortages were granted permanent residency upon arrival." However in 1973, she informs, "the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) replaced permanent residency and while the need for migrant workers never abated, their working and living environments suddenly became precarious."

She further explains: "Under the TFWP, most workers are tied to one employer. While the recently introduced Open Work Permit for Workers at Risk provides workers with the opportunity to leave abusive situations, the onus is on the workers to provide proof of abuse. Because there is no guarantee the permit will be granted and fearing deportation and the loss of the vital income that sustains their families, many workers remain silent and as a result workplace abuses and injuries are seldom reported."

Sorio also informs that "Opportunities to apply for permanent residency range from difficult to impossible depending on the occupation. For example, under the new Caregiver Pilot Program, prospective caregivers can apply but only after a gruelling and expensive process, while agriculture workers and meat processors cannot, despite working for years and sometimes decades in Canada. Until recently, no workers could bring their families with them, a cruel separation that has finally and mercifully ended for caregivers, but not others."

Even though the federal government has taken certain steps such as lowering eligibility requirements to access Employment Insurance (EI) and introducing new criteria for farmers to help safeguard worker safety, she asserts that "much more needs to be done."

The federal government's new supports cover "temporary foreign workers who have lost their job due to COVID-19 layoffs, or who have had to stop working because of illness, but workers face barriers in accessing the benefits because information about support is not available in their language or requires a computer and internet, which many don't have," she writes.

"Also, the package does not support workers who lost their status because they fell through bureaucratic cracks," nor does it " guarantee compliance of public health directives on farms, in meat processing facilities, and at other workplaces."

"The Canadian government need only look to Portugal for an efficient and speedy solution to safeguarding the safety and security of these critical workers and all Canadians: grant them residency status." It is also her view that moving forward all migrant foreign workers should be given "access to permanent residency upon arrival as part of building a fair and inclusive country. In 2019, the federal government took steps in this direction by strengthening the caregivers' pathway to permanent residency conditional to having completed two years of work in Canada. It must extend this program to workers in all sectors."

Sorio concludes: "COVID-19 has shined a light on the precarious employment of many essential workers, including those from overseas. Granting residency to migrant workers will demonstrate genuine appreciation for the services they provide, creating a pathway to citizenship and eliminating the systemic barriers embedded in temporary foreign worker programs.

"Now is the time for change."

(With files from Hill Times. photos: TML, J4MW)

This article was published in

Volume 50 Number 17 - May 16, 2020

Article Link:
Status for Asylum Seekers and Migrant Workers: Permanent Residency for All Migrant Workers as a Pathway to Full Citizenship!


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