To: Party leaders and Members of Parliament

The Austerity Agenda Enforces a Climate of Fear for Migrants

José came to rural Quebec from Guatemala in 2003 to work in Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). He returned to work on the same farm for several years but in 2006 his application was rejected without explanation. A few months earlier, José had witnessed a physical and verbal assault against a Mexican migrant, and filed a complaint against his employer.1

March for Sanctuary City Vancouver. Photo: David P. Ball/Tyee

José’s story illustrates the sweeping power that the TWFP – and the climate of fear for migrant workers – grants to employers. If workers are underpaid or mistreated, they can face deportation or reprisals if they seek redress.

The system, among other federal immigration policies, keeps a large part of the workforce vulnerable while fueling anti-migrant sentiment. The austerity agenda seeks profits at the expense of wages, and Canada’s immigration policies are increasingly geared toward division and exploitation.

Recent evidence suggests that the Harper government, and provincial Ministries have turned a blind eye as thousands of employers pay TFWs below minimum wage, sometimes by as much as $5.23 There is almost no oversight to ensure workers are being paid for overtime.4 Migrant workers in the TFWP can only work for the employer listed on their permits, giving the employer the upper hand when it comes to disputes over rights or pay.5

At the same time, the federal government has limited other migration options. The 2012 Refugee Exclusion Act prevents people from some countries from claiming refugee status.6 Refugee applications have dropped by 50%, and Canada accepted 25% fewer refugees. $53 million has been cut from settlement services. It decreased family class immigration,7 limited sponsorship of parents and grandparents, and instituted a two-year moratorium on family reunification.8 83,382 people were deported between 2006 and 2011.9 Under new rules, only people with a job offer can immigrate to Canada. This gives employers powers over immigrants similar to the what the TFWP provides.10

The criminalization of people who migrate to Canada, often under extremely difficult circumstances, has stepped up. The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) has taken to conducting American-style sweeps under the guise of safety checks10, even as some local law enforcement has begun to adopt a hands-off approach.12 Many workers who are injured on the job now say they avoid hospitals because CBSA agents have deported non-status people who seek care.13 It is is now easier to revoke permanent resident status than ever before.14

An average of 11,000 migrants are detained each year in CBSA facilities and provincial prisons.15 These include up to 807 children.16 Cumulatively, migrant detainees are spending 503 person-years in detention each year for administrative offenses alone.17

A rise in racist, anti-immigrant sentiment has followed the scarcity mentality that results from austerity policies. As thousands of jobs are cut and EI benefits are slashed, white-supremacist-themed flyers have appeared in different parts of the Toronto area,18 and polls show that one in four Canadians feel too many non-white immigrants are coming to Canada.19

The media has fallen into a trap of pitting citizens against new immigrants, ignoring the context of thousands of jobs cuts and losses of benefits.20 Highly profitable corporations such as Royal Bank, Tim Horton’s and Bell exploit migrant workers to pad their profit margins. Regulations that severely limit the options for migration have largely escaped scrutiny in the media.21

Why This Matters:

Keeping migrant workers in a precarious position of fear first and foremost creates miserable conditions of existence. It deepens racism and weakens the social fabric, while eroding wages and working conditions.

Noé Arteaga, a migrant worker who was deported for pressuring his employer to help a co-worker who needed medical assistance, called the system “modern day slavery.” “You are tied to your employer and if you don’t like what is happening there are thousands of people ready to take your job. They dispose of the workers, just like they did to me.”22

High-profit, environmentally destructive tar sands extraction operations have been able to expand through the exploitation of TFWs.23 Oil-rich Alberta relies on the TFW program more than any other province or territory in Canada.24

Often, the policies that Canada has promoted abroad drive the economic desperation force people to migrate. Mexico has seen rural poverty rise by 83% since NAFTA – which was heavily promoted by Canada’s business class – came into effect, and over one million farmers have lost their jobs.25 Many bilateral “free trade” agreements could have similar effects.26

The coup in Haiti27, military aid to the Philippines28 and participation in wars in Libya29, Iraq30 and Afghanistan31 have created more desperation and misery, which eventually fuels exploitation – abroad if not in Canada itself. In 2015, the post-colonial aphorism “we are here because you were there” continues to ring true.

Despite the onslaught of changes at the federal level, a growing movement is working to make cities safe places for all people to receive services. Toronto’s Solidarity City and a similar initiative in Hamilton have scored major victories32, while work has begun in Vancouver.33

  1. The two events are not unrelated. The same year, sixty other Guatemalans were expelled without an official reason and no appeal process. –Dominion, 2014
  2. Globe and Mail, 2014
  3. "'Behind closed doors, they knew the rules were being bent and broken, and they knew thousands of temporary foreign workers were being underpaid,' said AFL president Gil McGowan" –CBC, 2014
  4. "The survey also found that about 20 per cent of the nannies surveyed said they were not paid or only occasionally paid for overtime — which added up to about 10 hours a week." –Edmonton Journal, 2015
  5. "If TFWs are laid off or otherwise lose their employment during their work permit, they must apply for a new work permit with a new employer." –CCPA, 2010
  6. On December 15, 2012 the Refugee Exclusion Act (Bill C-31) was fully implemented. –No One Is Illegal Vancouver, 2014
  7. In 2011 the Harper government planned to cut overall immigration by five per cent. Family class immigrant acceptance dropped 15 per cent since the Conservatives took power. In addition $53 million from settlement services was cut while Harper made promises to cut $11 billion from public services used disproportionately by immigrants. –No One Is Illegal, 2011
  8. "The result is that family reunification is now out of reach for the vast majority of newcomers and impossible for lower-income immigrants." –Toronto Star, 2014
    "'That is why, as part of our reforms,' Minister Kenney announced that 'as of 2014, to qualify to sponsor your parents or grandparents; the minimum necessary income will be assessed at 30 per cent above the low income cut-off (LICO).'" –, 2014
  9. "Most Canadians would shudder at the thought of women being shackled to their hospital beds after giving birth. Yet that is exactly what happens to a specific class of women who, having come to Canada seeking safety, are detained even though they pose no threat to the public." –Matthew Behrens, 2012
  10. Under the Express Entry system, which is almost the entire permanent stream, immigrants must have a job offer to hope to qualify. "Job offers and provincial nominations are not essential, but they give significant points, about half of the total 1200 points one can get under the new system." ABS-CBN
  11. "'It's a sweep, it's racial profiling stopping cars in Jane and Finch under the guise of a traffic stop then coercing everyone to hand over their IDs, then detaining them,' Hussan said." –CBC, 2014
    "They didn't ID themselves as police or CBSA, they just told them to pull over and produce ID," Ortiz said.True North Times, 2014
  12. "It comes amid a growing movement among North America cities to accommodate the undocumented — typically those who overstay their visas or are failed refugee claimants — and to make sure they and their families have access to basic city services." –National Post, 2015
  13. "People without legal status in Canada are increasingly afraid to go to hospitals for fear of being reported to the Canada Border Services Agency, a community health group claims." –Vancouver Sun, 2014
  14. "Permanent residents of Canada, upon being convicted of relatively minor crimes, can now be deported without any right of appeal or consideration of their personal circumstances. Innocent people, found to be inadmissible to Canada because of ludicrously broad security laws, will no longer be able to remain in Canada for exceptional or humanitarian reasons." –Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, 2013
  15. "Newcomers are often held in provincial jails or police facilities alongside suspected gang members and violent offenders, says the Canadian Red Cross Society's inspection report" –Canadian Press, 2014
  16. "These numbers may be much higher as accompanied minors are not always personally under a detention order and thus may not show up in CBSA statistics" –Global Detention Project
  17. "'How long you stay in immigration jail depends on who is deciding your case and where in the country you're arrested. For some reason, adjudicators are releasing (fewer) migrants every year,' said Syed Hussan" –Toronto Star, 2014
  18. "The flyer depicts a black-and-white photo of an all-white group with the caption 'From this,' above a colour photo of a group of angry Sikh protesters, with the caption 'To this.'" –Toronto Star, 2014
    "An anti-immigration flyer similar to one that caused an uproar in Brampton, Ont. in April was recently distributed at York University." –Huffington Post, 2014
  19. "Canadians are becoming less welcoming of newcomers — especially of visible minorities, a new national survey has found. The EKOS poll, conducted March 4 to 10, shows a country that's becoming more fearful and less compassionate, say Winnipeggers who help immigrants and refugees." –Winnipeg Free Press, 2015
    "Four in ten Canadians believe 'too many' immigrants who come to Canada aren't white, according to a new poll." –Metro, 2015
  20. "Tomlinson's story did not spark a debate about corporate abuse of labour laws. Migrant workers and their allies have been organizing for decades highlighting the ways in which employers abuse workers, and how labour laws exclude migrant workers from protections. [Instead, it fuelled] the xenophobic charge that blames migrants for 'stealing' Canadian jobs." Syed Hussan
  21. In 2013 it was found foreign workers were being brought in to do the job of bankers at RBC. –Globe and Mail, 2013
  22. "Temporary foreign workers come to Canada on a visa with their employer's name on it. They cannot change employers if a problem arises. Workers are also often dependent on their employers for transportation, housing and food." Canadian Dimension, 2013
  23. "By 7 a.m. in Fort McMurray, oilsands workers crowd onto Highway 63 heading to massive oilsands plants. But before they can leave for work, another quieter army of workers is already on the job. Hundreds of nannies start work first on the home front, freeing the parents and playing a key role in keeping the oilsands economy running." –Edmonton Journal, 2015
  24. "Alberta relies on temporary foreign workers more than any other province or territory and has had the second lowest unemployment rate." –Canada West Foundation, 2015
  25. "NAFTA has caused unemployment within the agricultural sector of Mexico to skyrocket... at the end of 2004 there were 6.8 million unemployed agricultural workers in Mexico. Overall, paid wages to Mexicans working on corn farms have fallen 70 percent and, according to Witness for Peace, rural poverty rates in Mexico have risen to 81 percent." Council on Hemispheric Affairs, 2007
  26. "Canada has signed free trade agreements with the US, the US-and-Mexico (NAFTA), Costa Rica, Chile, Israel, Colombia, Peru and EFTA. It has also concluded talks with Jordan.", 2012
  27. "The grassroots pro-democracy movement in Haiti, which bravely overthrew the brutal dictatorship of Jean Claude Duvalier in 1986, has suffered major setbacks since the Coup took place. The people of Haiti are currently ruled by a U.S.-imposed neo-Duvalierist regime, under which the former dictator benefits from open support from powerful national and international allies." Apology to Haiti, 2014
  28. "In Manila, human rights advocates point to aid from the governments of Canada and the US as supporting the governmental-backed targeting and killing of local activists. It is commonly estimated that over 860 people have been killed in acts of politically motivated violence in the Philippines... which many local human rights activists attribute partially to a US backed "counterinsurgency" program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)" –
  29. "Canada started off Operation Mobile by bombing the city of Misrata, east of Tripoli. Two months into their military mission, Canada had dropped 240 bombs on Libyan targets, and engaged in psychological warfare by diffusing messages to Gaddafi loyalists telling them not attack civilian populations." –Media Co-op, 2014
  30. "In April 2007, there was an estimate of over 4 million Iraqi refugees around the world." –Wikipedia, 2015
  31. "Many Afghans see their current government, hastily formed under US influence, as a continuation of the power and impunity of warlords rather than a reflection of true democratic participation. Many warlords received US military and financial backing..." –Costs of War, 2012
  32. "On February 21, 2013, we put Toronto on the road to becoming a Sanctuary City as City Hall passed CD18.5. On June 10, 2014 Toronto City Council passed Motion 29.11." –Solidarity City, 2013
  33. "Vancouver is poised to become the newest among North America's self-declared 'sanctuary cities,' a stance intended to protect the safety of undocumented people within its borders." –The Tyee, 2014

Send a message:

83 signatures

The right to negotiate for better pay and working conditions should be inviolable and accessible to all. By threatening migrant workers, the government is undermining their ability to negotiate with employers and live with dignity and stability. We call on elected representatives to ensure that all workers have permanent immigration status, and can organize and receive government services, without fear of deportation or prosecution.