Temporary Foreign Worker Program overhaul a misuguided venture

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

  • Real protection means access to citizenship benefits and responsibilities.

    Real protection means access to citizenship benefits and responsibilities.

Written by MaryCarl Guiao, Ray Lee & Jacob Mendelson

Under the Conservative government, Canada has tightened requirements for immigration into the country, while expanding exploitative programs for workers to be brought in on a temporary basis with either very limited or no path towards permanent residency. The free movement of people as people is being restricted in favour of a commoditized, disposable workforce that is often subject to abuse and poverty with very little to no recourse for justice.

What is the Temporary Foreign Worker Program?

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program enables employers to bring workers in one of four streams (seasonal agricultural workers, live-in caregivers, high skilled and low skilled workers) to Canada to work for a limited time, after which the workers must return to their home country. Employers submit applications to Human Resources and Social Development Canada. HRSDC will issue a Labour Market Opinion (LMO) – a document that indicates the employer has been unable to fill the opening with Canadian workers, that the job offer is genuine, and that wages and working conditions are in line with Canadians doing the same work; or a letter indicating an LMO is not required. Once an LMO or letter is issued, employers can hire workers that have work permits through Citizenship an Immigration Canada. Workers are often paired with jobs through recruiters who arrange their papers for a sizeable fee.

What’s wrong with Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program?

“It's wrong, it's in shambles and it leads to exploitation.” – NDP MP Olivia Chow discussing the program.

The failures of the program are many. It systematically places workers in vulnerable positions and has been sharply criticized for a lack of both forethought in planning decisions and oversight of ongoing operations. Even where it is alleged to excel – in filling the needs of the Canadian labour market – there are major issues. In a recent report, Auditor General Sheila Fraser warned of the rapid increase in the use of temporary foreign workers, "there is little evidence that this shift is part of any well-defined strategy to best meet the needs of the Canadian labour market.”

In most cases, labour market opinions bind workers to a specific employer. This makes workers extremely dependent on keeping their jobs, regardless of working conditions. If they are facing abuse or an unsafe work environment, or if they are laid off, they can’t find legal work without an LMO from a new employer. A similar dynamic is created by the recruitment fees many workers pay to find jobs in Canada. Fees may be up to $10 000, leaving workers with a heavy debt load that can again leave them with no choice but to remain at jobs with poor and/or exploitative working conditions.

Overall there is a severe and fundamental power imbalance. Workers are unable to seek other jobs, and often face linguistic or literacy barriers that prevent them from having proper access to information about the details of their employment contract or their rights as workers.

Proposed changes

On October 9th, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney announced a number of reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. They include:

• “A more rigorous assessment of the “genuineness” of the job offer”. This is said to include a “blacklist” of employers extending false or misleading job offers, to be posted on the website of “Citizenship and Immigration Canada”.

• “Limits to the length of a worker’s stay in Canada before returning home.” Specifically, workers in “low-skilled” positions would be limited to working four years in Canada, followed by six years where they won’t be allowed access to the country to work.

• “Two-year prohibition from hiring a temporary foreign worker for employers found to have provided significantly different wages, working conditions or occupations than promised.”


These changes show at best a lack of understanding of the problems with the program, and no commitment to addressing the issues. The most important issues of worker abuse and vulnerability are not addressed. Providing a public list of abusive employers and penalizing them for abuses appear to be helpful steps, however, as it currently stands, the creation of such a list would conflict with the Privacy Act, and the government has yet to forward their plans on how to override this. Therefore we are left with nothing concrete on how this proposed change, if enforced, could work legally. If by chance the creating of an ‘abusive employers’ list were to become legalized, it may be irrelevant as there are no guidelines for information sharing between the federal agencies responsible for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the provincial bodies responsible for enforcing the law. Limits to the number of years workers can stay in Canada are seemingly arbitrary and serve no clear purpose but to punish people that have dedicated significant time to working in Canada.

It gets worse. The regulations take effect on December 9, 2009 unless we stop them!  We must ensure real protection for undocumented and temporarily documented people in Canada by: “enforcing standards on employers and agencies hiring migrant workers. Real protection means allowing migrant workers to bargain collectively, with full coverage under labour legislation.  Real protection means access to citizenship benefits and responsibilities. Real protection means permanent residence on arrival. Real protection means regularization for all. Real protection means prohibiting fees migrant workers are forced to pay to find work, a fair appeals process for repatriations and an end to deportation!” ~Coalition for Change

Resources and further reading:

There are many groups actively working to support and advocate for migrant workers in Canada. This is by no means a comprehensive list.

http://toronto.nooneisillegal.org/No One Is Illegal (Toronto) is a group of immigrants, refugees and allies who fight for the rights of all migrants to live with dignity and respect.  NOII believes that granting citizenship to a privileged few is a part of racist immigration and border policies designed to exploit and marginalize migrants.

http://www.justicia4migrantworkers.org/ - Justicia for Migrant Workers – a non-profit collective “that strives to promote the rights of migrant farmworkers and farmworkers without status”

http://www.law-faqs.org/wiki/index.php/Temporary_Foreign_Workers - Detailed information about the Temporary Foreign Worker Program provided by the Alberta Legal Resource Centre

http://www.thestar.com/topic/TempWorkers - Toronto Star investigative series– covers stories of personal experience, employer abuse and the TFWP’s role in growing the underground economy.

http://www.migrante.ca/ - MIGRANTE Ontario – “an alliance of organisations working for the rights and welfare of migrants in Ontario through initiatives such as organizing, education, training and advocacy.”

http://www.canadianlabour.ca/issues/labour-and-migration - Publications and submissions to Parliament by the Canadian Labour Congress related to issues of labour and migration.

What you can do:

SIGN THIS PETITION titled, "Scrap Proposed Amendments to the Migrant Worker Regulations: Ensure Status for All!". Sign by visiting http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/migrantworkers/. INVITE everyone you to know to sign!

EMAIL your outrage to AND AND

GET INVOLVED! Email   to hear about upcoming local events and work on this issue.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question

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