A group advocating for migrants’ rights is pushing for changes to a recently announced short-term program, calling it unfair, exploitative and exclusionary.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced last month a new immigration route that will allow up to 90,000 essential international workers and graduates already in Canada to turn their temporary status into permanent status.
The program, which will begin accepting applications Thursday, is a rare opportunity for low-wage, low-skilled workers to obtain permanent residency and, ultimately, Canadian citizenship through the immigration system that normally gives priority to workers with high skills.
But the Migrant Rights Network says a large number of workers, students and recent graduates with temporary or undocumented immigration status do not meet the application requirements. The group says those who qualify are crashing to get the required language test results and other required documents while competing for a limited number of spots coming in first.
“Any belief that the program would finally provide rights, protection and dignity, even for low-wage workers, has been short-lived,” the group wrote in a report released today.
“Refugees, undocumented people and hundreds of thousands of other migrants have realized that the exemptions and requirements of the program close them.”
This criticism is aimed at an initiative the Liberal government hopes will help it accept 401,000 new permanent residents after a year when travel restrictions and an elaborate backlog process triggered by panemia significantly slowed immigration.
Canada welcomed 184,624 immigrants in 2020 the lowest number of the year since 1998, according to Statistics Canada. The pre-pandemic target set by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada for 2020 was 341,000 new immigrants.
Under the temporary route, the immigration department will receive up to 20,000 applications for temporary workers in health care, 30,000 applications for temporary workers from a list of jobs considered “essential” and 40,000 applications for international students.
When the program was announced, the Migrant Rights Network created an online tool to help migrants find out if they qualify for the program. The tool also allowed them to share information about their personal migration situations.
The group says over 3,000 migrants completed the survey and it analyzed some of those results in its report, which is not scientific or nationally representative.
Many reported that they do not meet the qualification requirements for one of the following reasons: they are undocumented because they have stayed on a temporary visa or their work permit has expired, they are a refugee applicant, they are an international student who is not still graduate, or they are a temporary resident in Quebec.
Others do not qualify because they have medical issues or past criminal convictions, or because they do not have valid language test results proving that they are proficient in English.
“The federal government has set up a short-term program for some that excludes many,” Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Rights Network, told a news conference today. “What we need is permanent status for everyone.”
LOOK | The path of temporary immigration excludes many, the migrant rights activist says:
Hussan said people in Canada who do not have permanent status have limited access to labor rights, health care and education. He was joined at the press conference by some migrants who do not qualify for the program.
Abdoul is a Montreal resident who gave his first name only because he is undocumented and fears backlash from his employer and his reporting on immigration enforcement.
He said through an interpreter that he lost his legal status after arriving in Canada as an international student in 2015.Abdoul said he has worked in a variety of jobs since then as a moving, warehousing and construction worker and had experienced “inhumane conditions” at hand. of employers who exploited his undocumented status.
He cited as an example that he had to climb thirty meters high stairs without protection or safety equipment. In one case, he said, he fell down a ladder and injured his leg, but had to continue working because he lacked access to health care and insurance.
“This program is unfair because it hardens the divide that already exists between undocumented people and other insecure migrants and people with status in Canada,” Abdoul said.
Obstacles in implementation
The Migrant Rights Network survey also highlighted a number of barriers faced by migrants who qualify for the program including the difficulty of booking English-language tests at one of two approved testing centers, for example.
A second hurdle is the fact that many workers do not have enough money saved to pay high fees for a permanent residency application, or to pay immigrant consultants and attorneys to help them navigate the system.
“Collectively, this means that people who do not speak English, people who do not have a good job, people who do not have money, people who are stranded abroad, mostly low-wage, working-class essential workers, are being pushed at the bottom of the line, “Hussan said.
He called on Mendicino to sit down with his group to make the program more accessible. The minister’s office rejected a request for an interview.
Raj Sharma, an immigration attorney at CalgaryStewart law firm Sharma Harsanyi, said his firm is working with about 40 clients to help them apply for one of the previous streams.
Sharma said that while a program for graduates and core workers is welcome, the demand for language is causing unnecessary headaches, especially for those who have graduated in Canada from a post-secondary program taught in English.
“International graduates, for example, entered Canada in language testing,” Sharma said. “It is strictly unnecessary to ask for a language test.”
Sharma said he expects 90,000 spots to be filled within days.
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