Issues for Action: Citizenship Rights

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Migrant workers right to remain and work in Canada is typically linked to their employment. This makes migrant workers vulnerable to employer exploitation. Further, the pathways by which migrant workers can access permanent residency status are decreasing and often intensify their vulnerability during the waiting period.

Over 8700 temporary foreign workers were employed in Alberta in 2017, down from a high of over 40,000 in 2013. These workers performed many jobs, including childcare, cleaning, cooking and food service, retail sales, and farm and construction work. Migrant workers can receive permission to work in Canada under various programs. These programs typically place limits on the duration that migrant workers may stay in Canada and for whom they may work.

For example, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) requires a worker to work for a specific employer and requires the work to leave the country by December 1. The Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program limits migrant workers to employment with employers who have received a valid Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) and also places a limit on the number of years workers are eligible to work in Canada.

These restrictions make migrant workers vulnerable to employer exploitation. For example, workers employed under the SAWP who are injured on the job are often sent home immediately, rather than being allowed to recover in Canada. This impedes their access to medical care and workers’ compensation benefits. Temporary foreign workers often work unpaid overtime and live in atrocious employer housing. Their ability to remedy these situations is limited by fear of being terminated and being unable to find another employer with an LMIA.

Some workers who are employed under the Temporary Foreign Worker program are eligible to apply for permanent residency under various Provincial Nominee Programs (such as the Alberta Immigrant Nominee program). Where access to the program requires employer support, migrant workers report heightened vulnerability wherein they fear that displeasing their employer will jeopardize their application. One effect of this heightened vulnerability is an increased unwillingness to report workplace injuries.


Policy Recommendations

  1. Open work permits: Allowing migrant workers to more easily change employers reduces workers’ vulnerability to exploitative working conditions.
  2. Pathway to permanent residency: Greater access to permanent residency would reduce migrant workers’ vulnerability to exploitation.
  3. Targeted education: Alberta should fund the delivery of immigration education designed to address the unique needs of migrant workers by community groups that already have relationships of trust with migrant workers.