VANCOUVER, Canada — Sonny Calanoc has been a temporary foreign worker in Calgary for almost six years supporting his family back in the Philippines and all the while hoping to become a Canadian citizen.
“I applied once for residency but got denied but I am reapplying hoping to get approved..This is my only hope….and I found this country as my second home and I don’t see myself going anywhere else,” he wrote in a petition to Prime Minister Stepen Harper.
“Please Mr. Harper, make us permanent,” he pleads adding; “We love Canada and embrace everything about this awesome nation.”
Like Sonny thousands of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) who are getting the boot this week with a change in the law are making direct pleas to Harper to allow them to stay.
Supported by various migrant worker groups, social activists, lawyers and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) the country’s largest association of small- and medium-sized businesses with 109,000 members across every sector and region, the TFWs are asking to be allowed to stay in Canada.
According to a rule change made four years ago, TFWs are allowed to stay a maximum of four years, then must leave the country for at least four years. That four-year deadline hit April 1, 2015.
“CFIB commended the federal government for its decision to allow hundreds of skilled TFWs to continue to live and work in Canada until their application for permanent residency is complete,” said Richard Truscott, CFIB’s vice-president for Alberta and BC. “Unfortunately, thousands of TFWs in other provinces and those with more junior skill sets in Alberta will still be forced out.”
CFIB believes the federal government should allow TFWs at all skill levels to apply to become permanent residents and allow them to stay in Canada when they meet basic requirements.
“We believe there is broad support among provincial governments, the workers themselves, and even some union leaders, to facilitate permanent residency for these individuals who are in Canada now and hoping to stay,” concludes Truscott.
CFIB has proposed the TFW Program be replaced with a new Introduction to Canada Visa. Instead of a temporary program, the visa would be a first step toward permanent residency and targeted at workers with more junior skill sets. The individual would agree to work for two years with an employer while they integrate into the Canadian economy and adjust to their local community. At that point, they could become a permanent resident.
But Ottawa isn’t budging triggering protest rallies and petitions across the country.
Among those affected by the new ruling, which has been described by its critics as “unjust,” are low-skilled workers employed in industries such as agriculture, fishing, food and beverage, retail, construction and personal services, including caregivers.
“Immigration officials are unable to provide statistics on the number of migrant workers due for removals as of April 1 due to time restraints, but advocacy groups estimate there could be as many as 70,000 whose time-limited work permits will expire this year,” according to the Toronto Star.
Concerns have been raised that some workers whose visas have lapsed may simply decide to become undocumented and work in the underground economy.
Currently, about 330,000 live and work under the temporary foreign worker program (TFWP), a number that has tripled in the last 10 years. Workers — many of whom are employed in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia – come from more than 50 countries, including developed nations. The top 10 countries include the Philippines, Mexico, U.S., Jamaica, India, Guatemala, U.K., France, Korea and Ireland, according to Statistics Canada.
“Many of the people who are being forcibly uprooted on April 1 have lived in the country for longer than four years. They have families, friends, and relationships,” said a statement by Liza Draman from the Caregivers Action Centre (CAC). “Workers already face abuse from employers and recruiters because of bad provincial and federal laws, pulling them away from their communities on top of that is unjust, inhumane and arbitrary.”
Live-in caregivers are among those likely to be affected by the ruling, said CAC. There are about 70,000 workers classified as live-in caregivers in Canada, the majority of whom are from the Philippines and Caribbean nations.
Caregivers can apply for permanent status after two to three years, but the process has normally taken up to three years and approval hinges on a number of factors.
In October, the Conservative government announced changes to the program, making it optional for caregivers to live with their employers; it also promised to bring the backlog of 60,000 applications for permanent residence down to zero in two years. Caregivers will still wait for two years before they can file for permanent resident status, but Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said applications would be processed within six months said the Rabble.
Syed Hussan of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change said the ruling does not make sense. “It doesn’t serve anyone’s purpose to remove a trained workforce, and replace it with new workers that are less aware of their rights,” he said in a statement.
“Why does holding down a job for four years result in deportation? Our communities need migrant workers to have permanent status. This mass deportation is classic economic mismanagement and is frankly irrational.”
Ottawa cited a need to “protect the Canadian labour market” as a reason for revising the TFWP. The program was only meant to address temporary labour shortages, the government said, adding that the new rule was also meant to encourage employers and their workers to seek pathways to permanent residence. Critics have noted, however, that Canada’s current immigration laws favor highly skilled workers, not low-skilled, low-wage workers.
Employers have also argued that they have had to hire temporary foreign workers because low-wage, low-skilled jobs do not attract Canadians, despite the fact that more than 1.4 million are jobless.