Canada's Reliance on Migrant Labour

The Canadian economy relies upon having hundreds of thousands of foreign migrants available to do work that sustains our economy. More than half of Canada's population has come here from abroad since World War II. Currently, about 22 per cent of Canada's 34.5 million people were born abroad. In the five-year period 2011-2015 an average of 258,170 people a year secured permanent residency while from 2016-2020 the average was 299,400 per year. Canada raised its target to 401,000 for 2021.

Even more foreign workers are brought as temporary migrant workers, including those with a range of skill levels, from post graduate and university students to high-skilled and so-called low-skilled labourers. The Canadian state organizes to bring them here under a variety of programs, often under the promise of permission to apply for permanent residency after arrival. Many are contracted under employer specific work permits that only permit the worker to work for a specific employer. It's akin to indentured labour.

In 2016, the most current data published by Statistics Canada, a total of 613,200 temporary work permits were issued. They fall under two general programs. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program issues employer-specific work permits (ESWP). Private household service workers and agricultural workers fall under this category. They are largely at the mercy of the employer and thus the most vulnerable. Another program called the International Mobility Program issues open work permits (OWP) which are not employer specific.

The breakdown of temporary work permits issued in 2016 was 377,700 OWPs; 135,900 high skilled ESWPs; 117,700 post-graduation work permits; 90,800 International Work Experience Canada permits; 77,800 low skilled ESWPs; and 57,600 student study permits. The rest fall under miscellaneous categories.

The numbers in every category have steadily risen since 2001, with one exception -- humanitarian and compassionate work permits. These have steadily declined from 40,500 in 2001 to 25,700 in 2016. Post-graduation permits by comparison went from 2,400 in 2001 to 117,700 in 2016, while student study permits went from 3,900 to 57,600.

Temporary foreign migrant workers are an integral part of the Canadian working class and contribute immensely to Canadian society. The state-organized discrimination and violation of their rights has to end. No more platitudes from government officials that the work they do is "essential" or that "we are all in this together" while blatantly discriminating against these most vulnerable sections of the Canadian working class. Status for refugees, students, workers and undocumented people -- Status for All! -- is a legitimate demand to humanize our society.

This article was published in

June 18, 2021 - No. 58

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