On April 1, 2015, new federal government rules will set the stage for the largest set of deportations in Canada's history. An estimated 70,000 temporary foreign workers whose contracts are expiring will either voluntarily leave Canada, be given deportation orders, or will continue living here without legal documents.
Ethel Tungohan interviewed temporary foreign workers about the impact the 4 & 4 rule will have on them and their families. All names in this piece have been changed to protect the interviewees.
Laura's husband came to Edmonton through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) in 2008 to work as a food handler for a fast-food restaurant and was soon promoted to be a cook. In January 2013, Laura and her two children joined her husband in Canada. Laura found a job and her children, aged six and 11, enrolled in school.
On November 2014, Laura's husband applied to the Alberta Immigration Nominee Program (AINP). On March 2015, his application was rejected. Her husband has since filed an immigration application through the Express Entry program. He hopes to get the results before his contract expires on April 1.
Alberta Health has asked Laura, who is pregnant, for proof that her work permit has been extended. Laura is worried that she won't have a place to give birth.
Their children, who are thriving in school, have received numerous academic awards and want to stay in Canada. "I don't know what to tell them if they are asked to leave school. We're trying to protect them from finding out what will happen," Laura said.
They have not yet told their children about what it will mean to be undocumented.
Martin came to Edmonton in 2008 as a temporary foreign worker (TFW) and worked as a janitor for a cleaning company. In 2011, he transferred to another company, where he was soon promoted as a supervisor. His employer agreed to sponsor his AINP application, which they filed in May 2014. He does not know the results of his application. His employer has filed a work visa extension on his behalf but they have also not heard whether their application was successful. For his AINP and work extension applications, he paid an immigration consultant $1,200 in total.
Martin does not know what to do when his work permit expires on April 1. He will lose status and it will affect his children.
His wife and children, who are 15 and 16 years old, joined him in February 2013. His children are thriving academically and socially. Martin has not told his children about the pending insecurity of their status, although one of them suspects that something may be happening after his teacher randomly inquired what their 'status' was in Canada and whether their contracts would be renewed.
"I tell my children that everything I do is for them. We're not rich people. I can't give them an inheritance. What I can give them is my hard work and my sacrifice so they can get better lives," Martin explained.
Martin and Laura's stories are common among TFWs who will become undocumented on April 1 despite pending immigration applications. Martin, Laura, and their families will be prevented from accessing important government services.
For Laura, being undocumented affects her ability to use Alberta Health Services to give birth. Martin and Laura's children are also at risk of being asked to leave school on April 1. That a teacher asked Martin's child about his status indicates that some schools may be keeping tabs on parents' work permit expiration dates.
When asked about their policies towards the children of TFWs whose work permits are expiring, Edmonton Catholic Schools indicated that they were not aware of their exact policies. Repeated emails and phone calls to the Edmonton Public School Board were not returned.
Ethel Tungohan is a community activist and a Grant Notley postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alberta.
Photo: flickr/Jeff Nelson