A person opening an empty wallet.
A person opening an empty wallet. Credit: Towfiqu barbhuiya / Unsplash Credit: Towfiqu barbhuiya / Unsplash

People across the country are facing financial difficulties, and staffers at the Immigrant Workers’ Centre in Montreal say Canada’s unjust immigration regime has placed particular hardship on racialized migrants. 

In April 2024, almost one in three Canadians said it had been difficult to make ends meet in the last 12 months, according to Statistics Canada. Amongst immigrants who arrived in 2005 or later, almost 43 per cent of people reported financial difficulty. 

The burden of financial strain is highest amongst immigrants from Asia, followed by immigrants from Africa. People from the United States and Europe were the least likely to report financial hardship. 

Mostafa Henaway, a community organizer at the Immigrant Workers’ Centre, said racialized workers face financial hardship by Canada’s design. 

A 2018 submission to the Federal Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration calls out Canadian companies for their policies that contribute to displacement. Caritas Canada, an international development organization of the Catholic Church, wrote that many migrants leave their homes because their natural resources and lands have been extracted and polluted by Canadian Companies. 

“When communities are consulted and participate in determining their own path to development, the likelihood of forced migration is reduced,” reads the Caritas’ submission to the immigration committee. 

Henaway said Canada’s complicity in forced migration creates a pool of displaced workers who are vulnerable to exploitation. This not only puts immigrants in danger, it also creates conditions in which employers can keep wages down. 

“The thinking seems to be, ‘We have access to the vast majority of labor in the world in the Global South. We have access to this reserve army of labor globally. So why should we change the work conditions? When we know we can just access even cheaper and cheaper labor that will be more docile?’” Henaway said. 

The power relationship between employers and migrant workers is structural, Henaway said, pointing to the closed work permit as an example. 

READ MORE: Senate committee continues study on temporary and migrant labour force

Since September 2023, the House of Commons committee on immigration has been investigating closed work permits, which tie workers to a single employer. In May, a report from the Senate called on the government to begin phasing out closed work permits. 

The House of Commons has received 15 briefs outlining various positions on potential change to immigration laws. 

Food and Beverage Canada submitted a brief that highlighted the high rate of compliance to labour standards. In 2022, there was a 94 per cent compliance rate among employers who were inspected. 

“Employer-specific work permits allow the government to know where employees are and facilitate check-ins and inspections,” Food and Beverage Canada wrote. 

The organization emphasized that they do not want companies with a history of abuse to access migrant labour.

Despite those who argue closed work permits can increase surveillance of employers, Henaway stood firm in his position that these types of permits keep people “trapped.” 

He said the solution to the exploitation of migrant workers is the creation of good jobs. The task is in the hands of workers. 

“It’s not about whether something is a good job or a bad job, it’s how much power workers have to make those jobs into good jobs,” Henaway said.

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Gabriela Calugay-Casuga

Gabriela “Gabby” Calugay-Casuga (she/they) is a writer and activist based in so-called “Ottawa.” They began writing for Migrante Ottawa’s radio show, Talakayang Bayan, in 2017. Since then, she...