Public Values

Immigration privatized through extension of migrant worker program

At least half of new immigrants now are forever temporary, and the proportion keeps growing.

Researcher Salimah Valiani says employers have been in placed in charge of Ish Theilheimer

OTTAWA, March 4, 2009, Changes to Canada's immigration system introduced by the Liberals and accelerated by the Conservatives mean that most new immigrants now come to Canada with no familes, rights or recourse.

Many Canadians know the Conservatives slipped immigration changes into their 2008 budget that let the government designate some groups of immigrant for high-priority treatment. Most are not aware that coming in as a temporary migrant worker has become the main form of immigration as a result of the changes introduced last year.

"When you come as a permanent resident, it means you come with your family, you have protection under all the laws of the land, you can get citizenship after a certain period of time, and you have the right to live and work in places of your choice," says Ottawa immigration researcher and activist Salimah Valiani. "What has happened in Canada in the past two years is that we have opened up a way for employers to bring people in on temporary work permits. So workers come in as temporary migrant workers who cannot bring their families, cannot live where they want, cannot work where they want. And, after a period of two years, will allow employers to choose certain workers to stay permanently."

To view the full video interview with Salimah Valiani, please click here:

This scenario, in which employers have enormous influence over an immigrant's well-being, is totally different from how most Canadian families first established themselves by coming to this country and following courses of their own choice.

"Already employers had a lot of control over temporary migrants," Valiani told in a video interview. "These are workers who came to Canada needing the job. They have no legal protection, so they're under a lot of stress to abide by the measures of the employers. And now they dangle this carrot of permanent residency, it gives employers yet more power over the workers."

Valiani conducted a study that shows that only half half of the workers entering became permanent residents. This means that the other half either had to renew their temporary status under new work permits, were deported, left Canada voluntarily, or became undocumented. The cause of all this is that they were not able to complete the 24 month live-in work requirement, usually due to employer abuse. This means they do not manage to qualify to apply as permanent residents.

"The advocates of live-in caregivers have been saying for some time that this program is very difficult for caregivers because the employment is not being monitored and the contracts are not being enforced by government. And when you look at the numbers, that is verified. When workers end up changing employers, they have to begin again the 24-month cycle. They end up going from one temporary work permit to another — forever temporary."

The number of migrant workers keeps going up, from 90,000 in 2000 to over 200,000 in 2007, roughly equal to the number of permanent residency immigrants.

"When we look at live-in caregivers, a sector in high demand, given that in Canada we don't have child care, we don't have a home care system for the elderly, we don't have enough systems to care for people with disabilities, so we demand live-in caregivers from abroad. That program is bringing in workers at an even quicker pace," says Valiani.

She says a crisis developed over the past 15 years or more during which Citizenship and Immigration Canada lacked sufficient staff and developed a backlog of 900,000 waiting to immigrate as permanent residents. "With the change to the Immigration Act, that 900,000 and the first-come, first-served system has been eliminated," says Valiani.

"Perpetual impermanence is likely the case if what has happened in the live-in caregiver program happens elsewhere," she says. "Given that our labour legislation has been weakened in most provinces, and given that the federal government does not intervene in provincial affairs and also refuses to take responsibility for the migrants coming into the federal system, it is likely that employers in many sectors will be able to behave like live-in caregiver employers have been behaving, which is 'do what you want with your workers. You know they need the jobs. You know that their legal status in Canada is attached to the workers through their work permit. You do what you want with those workers.'"

Ish Theilheimer has been Publisher of the leading, and oldest, independent Canadian online newsmagazine,, since founding it in September 1999. He is also Managing Editor of He lives wth his wife Kathy in Golden Lake, ON, in the Ottawa Valley.

Links and sources
  The shift in Canadian Immigration Policy and Unheeded Lessons of the Live-in Caregiver Program. No One is Illegal , Salimah Valiani, Ottawa, February 2009
  Labour and Migration Update, Policy and Advocacy News, Justicia for Migrant Workers, November 2008

Posted: March 04, 2009

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