In the News
Migrant Workers’ Town Hall Meeting
Message to Parliament: Full and Permanent Immigration Status for All Now!
On January 30, the day before Parliament reopened, the Migrant Rights Network organized a virtual town hall meeting with over 300 participants, live-streamed on Facebook. The purpose of the meeting was to unite and mobilize everyone, migrant workers and supporters, to increase pressure on the government to meet the demand for full and permanent immigration status for all workers. Five migrant workers spoke about their experiences, their working and living conditions and the increased precariousness of migrant workers due to the pandemic.
Facilitators and speakers belong to organizations across the country including No One is Illegal Halifax, Migrante Alberta, the Immigrant Workers Centre in Quebec, Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights and others, all part of the Migrant Rights Network.
Syed Hussen, Executive Director of the Migrant Rights Network, spoke about the demand that is being put to members of Parliament (MPs) for full and permanent immigration status for all migrants. He pointed out that COVID-19 has lifted the veil on the living conditions of migrant workers and described the current situation. In the conditions of the pandemic many migrant workers do not qualify for federal income support and struggle to access vaccines.
Migrant workers form a permanent and growing section of the Canadian working class. In 2000 about 60,000 work permits were issued and in 2021 there were half a million. In comparison, in the same period the number of permanent residents or immigrants with full rights only increased at the rate of the increase in the population. Over the past two years the story of migrant workers has been of crisis but also of action, with demonstrations at MP’s offices and mass actions where migrant workers have spoken out and presented the demand for Status for All! Over 1,000 people joined a march on Ottawa on July 25, 2021. Actions resulted in the prevention of the deportation of 52,000 students when post graduate work permits were extended, and to access to permanent resident status for 90,000 migrant workers through a short term program. In Quebec and the provinces migrant workers and advocates are fighting for health care coverage and changes to the labour laws.
The five panellists explained the problems they face. Ena, a care worker, said that many care workers who came to Canada on employer dependent work permits lost their jobs when their employers lost their jobs due to COVID-19. When their work permits expire they have to apply for another and processing of applications is backlogged. In BC workers lost health care coverage. Without work they cannot support themselves or send money home which is badly needed. Workers who have applied for permanent resident status face long delays in processing their applications which means extended family separation. She said that the message to the Trudeau government is that the work that care workers do, looking after children, seniors and people with special needs, is essential and permanent and they demand nothing less than full and permanent status. “No more pilots and no more pathways,” she said, Canadian laws and policies should protect everyone against racism, colonialism, exploitation and oppression and that “our fight for migrant justice and equality is as essential as the work we do.”
Abu Hena, an international student, explained that students pay huge tuition fees and are restricted to working only 20 hours a week. When the pandemic hit many of their parents back home lost their jobs, making their situation worse. He was forced to change from university to college and then to abandon his studies altogether which means he has lost his study permit and therefore has no health insurance. Businesses and schools benefit from the vulnerable position of foreign students. Last year the government made a one-time exception and allowed post graduate students to renew their work permits but that is no longer in effect. Under the current rules foreign students are punished for working too much and can be deported if they work more than 20 hours a week. As well the work is not counted towards the work requirement for permanent resident status. He emphasized that permanent resident status is not a gift, it’s a human right and the government should act now to end the injustice to foreign workers and students.
Teresa, a refugee claimant working in long-term care said that governments have neglected long-term care homes and their residents for years. The pandemic made the situation much worse with workers not given what they needed to work safely, working short-staffed, coming to work for an eight hour shift and being forced to work 16 or even 24 hours straight. Without status, she said, you are considered a nobody and if you get injured the government doesn’t care, doesn’t take care of you. The government program last year, the “Temporary resident to permanent resident pathway for essential workers and graduates in Canada” which covered some refugee claimants who worked in long-term care was so restrictive that it made many people ineligible. She reported that over 60 workers had met last weekend to organize actions and over 15,000 people have signed a petition in support of frontline health care workers. The message to government, she said, is simple. “We want status for all, we want the government to not exploit us, to give us what is rightfully ours.”
The town hall meeting concluded with a call to everyone to get copies of the poster calling for Status for All and post it at the offices of MPs, at bus stops and other places where people can see it, and for everyone to call the Prime Minister and the Minister of Immigration to demand government action now. For posters and other information go to Migrant Rights Network town hall click here.
(Workers’ Forum, posted February 10, 2022)