Canadian Immigration System Favours Migrant Workers
The percentage of temporary foreign workers obtaining permanent residency has increased to 21 per cent from 9 per cent.
One out of five foreign workers becomes permanent residents, twice the rate from two decades ago, says a groundbreaking study that examines an immigration system increasingly geared toward temporary migrants.
Only nine per cent of temporary foreign workers who came in the mid-1990s successfully obtained permanent resident status, while some 21 per cent of them did by the end of 2014, according to the new Statistics Canada report.
It was the first study ever that examined Canada’s national policies around attracting and retaining temporary foreign workers as immigrants.
Under the former Conservative government, Canada shifted toward an immigration system that absorbs migrant workers who first come to the country on temporary status to meet labour market needs, compared to the old “nation-building” model that let migrants in immediately as permanent residents.
The new approach was adopted to ensure the employability of newcomers and address the “doctor-driving-cab” immigrant conundrum, but has fuelled concerns that it creates a two-tiered system, where migrant workers don’t have the same protections as others and can be trapped in abusive and exploitative conditions in pursuit of permanent status.
The Statistics Canada report was released before Wednesday’s federal budget, which is expected to include further reforms to Canada’s temporary foreign worker programs.
The number of temporary residents entitled to work in Canada, including migrant workers and those under the international mobility program such as intra-company transfers, has tripled since early 2010s to more than 500,000, surpassing the 260,000 permanent residents settling here per year.
However, the share of higher-skilled foreign workers declined dramatically from 67 per cent in the late 1990s to just 40 per cent in the late 2000s.
Ottawa has rolled out a number of immigration programs such as the Canadian Experience Class and the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) that favour immigration candidates with Canadian education credentials and work experience, turning foreign workers into a pool of prospective immigrants.
“It was a smart move by Canada. It has definitely helped eliminate immigrants’ integration costs for taxpayers because they are already here studying or working,” said immigration policy analyst and lawyer Richard Kurland.
“I expect the new Express Entry system that favours applicants with Canadian credentials and work experience will further amplify the outcomes of this study.”
However, critics charge that for most temporary foreign workers — some 79 per cent of them — the pathway to permanent residency is still elusive.
“Canada provides a revolving door policy of just-in-time labour when needed and disposability when not,” said Chris Ramsaroop of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, a coalition of national migrant worker advocacy groups.
“To break this cycle, Canada must provide equal opportunity to all migrants by granting them permanent residency on arrival to end this inhumane and unjust system.”
The transition rate from temporary to permanent status varies dramatically for various classes of foreign workers, with live-in caregivers enjoying the greatest success despite a drastic drop from 83 per cent to 56 per cent in the last decade.
Among other groups, 31 per cent of low-skilled workers who arrived between 2005 and 2009 successfully became permanent residents compared to 23 per cent among their counterparts in higher-skilled occupations. The transition rate was less than 3 per cent among seasonal agricultural workers.
Temporary foreign workers from less developed countries were also more inclined to seek permanent residence in Canada, given expected increases in their standard of living.
Those from countries with higher gross domestic products per capita, such as the U.S., U.K., France and Japan had much lower transition rates than workers from the Philippines, India and China.
Four out of five of low-skilled workers obtained their permanent residence through the PNP program that allows provincial governments to select its own immigration candidates to meet local labour market needs.
About 38 per cent of higher-skilled workers got their status through the PNP program and half through the federal skilled workers program. The only option available for migrant farm workers is through marriage with Canadians.
Yuanyue Geng, 30, has been on a work permit as a social worker at an Ottawa community health centre since she graduated from Carleton University’s master’s of social work program last year.
While the two-tiered pathway to permanent residency has allowed her to test the water to explore if Canada would be the right place for her and could offer her the job opportunities she is looking for, she said living in limbo on temporary status can be unsettling.
“I have a work permit for three years but you don’t know what would happen to you after three years. It’s hard to do long-term planning with my employer because I don’t know if I would still be here,” said Geng, who came here from China in 2014.
“When you don’t have permanent resident status, you don’t have the same rights. I went to an (immigrant) agency for help, but they turned me away because I was not a permanent resident. There are jobs like government jobs that only permanent residents or Canadians can apply.”