Using the distraction of police violence against protesters that was on display at the G20 Summit marches in Toronto, the Canadian government once again affirmed their commitment to the movement of people across their borders only as cheap and replaceable labour.
On Saturday, June 26, Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced changes to immigration policy that further restrict immigrants from obtaining residency in Canada through permanent and meaningful employment. This change follows a long line of policy changes that are designed to bring in more temporary migrants while restricting those and other migrants from having safe employment and a chance to obtain permanent residency in Canada.
The new change to immigration policy restricts residency applicants to applying only if they have arranged employment or have experience in 29 specific occupations. Previously, there was no upper limit to applications, the criteria for residency was broader, and work experience in over 38 occupations was accepted. The change highlights four broad patterns that have played out in Canadian immigration policy over the past few years.
First, Jason Kenney, the Citizenship and Immigration Minister, has charted a course for Canadian immigration policy that treats migrants as disposable labour. Under the new policy changes, temporary foreign workers and students are no longer eligible to apply for residency even if they have the necessary points for immigration. Instead, they are rewarded for their contribution to the Canadian economy with a "thank you" and "good-bye" from the government. This is not a new development in immigration policy. From 2002 to 2008, the number of temporary foreign workers present in Canada, most of them in clerical or manual work, increased from 100,000 to 250,000.
However, this increase happened in parallel to new policies that limited the time those workers could stay in Canada. Workers were restricted to staying in Canada for only four years after which they would be banned from reentering Canada for the next six years. This made it harder for temporary workers to gain residency or skilled employment through experience, creating a disposable workforce.
In fact, temporary workers currently have no means through which to gain residency in Canada unless they gain work experience in the 29 skilled work fields during their four years in Canada. This is practically impossible as most work performed by temporary foreign workers is clerical or manual work. Even if they did happen to gain work experience in one of the 29 fields, the worker would have to wait six years before applying for residency. In other words, the four-year limit amounts to a deportation order for many temporary workers.
Even worse, these policies force migrants to work in low-income, unsafe, and non-unionized conditions. This is not surprising, as the second pattern in recent Canadian immigration policy has been the institutionalization of indifference to the work conditions of temporary foreign workers. Temporary foreign workers have to contend with employer abuse, overwork, financial cheating, illegal recruitment practices, and misinformation about migration opportunities. Supporters of current immigration policy point to protection mechanisms in that policy that punish employers for abuse once reported by the employee.
However, the Institute for Research on Public Policy has discredited the claim that temporary foreign workers have the same rights as permanent workers. In a study released in May 2010, the institute cited the restrictive nature of the foreign worker's permit, which is tied to one employer, one job, and one location as a primary reason for why existing enforcement mechanisms are useless. Temporary workers are intimately dependent on their employer during their stay in Canada (to both stay and earn money in Canada), so the chances that any employers would be reported are slim. In cases where the employer violates the rights of their worker (i.e. accent discrimination, unwarranted firing, abuse), immigrant workers can file a complaint with the Labour Board, which actually has no authority to make employers comply with their demands.
Third, the number of migrants able to apply for permanent residency has decreased, forcing many more to become non-status citizens or temporary workers. As residency criteria are being narrowed to limit the number of skilled workers settling in Canada permanently, the number of temporary or non-status workers is increasing.
This is mirrored in Canadian immigration policy towards refugee migrants. Under the claim of speeding up the process, Kenney has narrowed the criteria for refugee applications. In Kenney's report to Parliament, he expects 9,000 to 12,000 refugee claimants to be accepted, a decrease from 22,000 in 2008. The means through which such a reduction will take place can be read in the new Balanced Refugee Reform Act (Bill C-11). The Act outlines the mechanisms through which asylum seekers from certain "safe countries" may be fast-tracked to rejection. Although a right to appeal is included in the Bill, even that process can be fast-tracked, depending on the claim of the Immigration and Refugee Board. This could result in many more asylum seekers applying for temporary work in Canada instead of refugee status as the fast-tracking will surely disqualify many unfairly.
Finally, there has been a rise of immigration quota policies that are explicitly racist, xenophobic, and classist. Citing an excess of "unfounded" refugee claims from Mexico and the Czech Republic, Kenney in 2009 imposed visa requirements on Mexican and Czech citizens effectively capping many of these refugee claims. Despite protests by Czech asylum seekers and the Roma community, Kenney assumed that so many refugees could not be coming from a safe country like the Czech Republic. This list of "safe countries" was expanded in the Balanced Refugee Reform Act based on politicized and racist assumptions.
The Canadian Council for Refugees argues that "it is...a serious mistake to politicize the process [of refugee claims] by listing countries" and that the process "risks hurting the most vulnerable refugees, including women who have been sexually assaulted and persons persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation." In addition, the decreases in immigration goals for refugees, family reunification, and skilled workers set by Kenney in his report to Parliament clearly show that Canada is closing its borders more tightly.
On the other hand, the immigrants that are allowed in for permanent settlement are carefully controlled both in numbers and in their occupation. Under the changes proposed on the 26th, a total of 20,000 applicants in just 29 occupations (all managerial, professional, or technical) will be admitted to Canada. Even fewer of these applicants will be accepted. Of those accepted, many will have to deal with their education, professional qualifications, and work experience not being accepted in Canada.
What can we do (collectively and politically) about the rise of classist and racist immigration policy that values temporary labour over permanent settlement? I believe the answer lies with organizations such as No One is Illegal (NOII), the Immigrant Workers Centre in Montreal, and Justicia for Migrant Workers. While NOII has protested against immigration policy, organizations like the Immigrant Workers Centre and Justicia for Migrant Workers have organized workers in their workplaces. Supporting these and other similar organizations is the best kind of work we can do collectively and politically to avoid a return to the days of the Chinese Head Tax.
Websites of Interest:
2. Diversity, Immigration, and Integration Program at Institute for Research on Public Policy - http://www.irpp.org/research/re_immig.asp
3. The Magnificent Migrants: a photoessay on Foreign Policy - http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/05/28/the_magnificent_migrants?hidecomments=yes
4. UC Berkeley Labor Center - http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu/immigrantworkers/resources.shtml
5. David Bacon's photos of immigrants and work - http://dbacon.igc.org/Imgrants/imgrants.htm
Usman Mushtaq is an international Master's student at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Apart from his academic work, he is interested in migrant justice.
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