By Daniel Tseghay
On March 29th, nine national, regional and provincial umbrellas of settlement organizations released Migrant workers: precarious and unsupported: A Canada-wide Study on Access to Services for Migrant Workers. The 73-pages report detailed the challenges migrant workers, in either the Temporary Foreign Worker Program or the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, in accessing settlement services.
Currently, most migrant workers are not eligible for federally-funded settlement services. According to the report, the “federal government funds newcomer settlement services across the country, but migrant workers in the two federal temporary labour migration programs for low-skilled/low wage workers (Temporary Foreign Worker Program and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program) are ineligible to access these services.” These services help newcomers integrate, such as language training, access to childcare, information about jobs and housing, are not available to most migrant workers.
Those in the Caregiver Program have limited access to services, and do not have access to federally-funded language instruction until they have been approved for permanent residency (PR).
Migrant workers, like newcomers with PR status, are navigating an unfamiliar country. Some migrant workers are in the country for years before being approved for PR status through BC’s Provincial Nominee Program. Even then, this status is accessible to a privileged few. “TFWs could be here on a work permit for years before receiving permanent residency and immigrant serving agencies are necessary and vital to assist in the settlement and integration of this group,” a rural settlement agency was quoted as saying in the report. “They need it early upon arrival, not years later.”
Since 2014, the Province of British Columbia has provided funding (“top-up funding”) for 58 settlement organizations to serve migrant workers who were ineligible. These organizations delivered services to over 3,000 migrants. Unfortunately, the Province’s funding ended in March, although it currently “intends to enter into new contracts with service providers who will be extending contribution agreements with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada from April 2016,” according to the report.
The report ends its section on BC with some recommendations. Some of these policy suggestions are for the province to continue its “top-up” funding for all migrant workers; coordinate with the federal government to expand eligibility for all migrants; and provide pre-arrival information to BC’s migrant workers about accessing permanent residence and workers’ rights. Looking to other provinces, the report recommends the introduction of a program similar to Manitoba’s Worker Recruitment and Protection Act, which improves protections for migrant workers. The report also calls for the the introduction of a TFW helpline, much like what exists in Alberta. And the report further recommends expanding language training so migrant workers can fulfill the BC PNP requirements, as well as opening access to healthcare for SAWP workers.
Most importantly, the report highlights the significance of a pathway to citizenship for all. Currently, that pathway only exists for a relatively few migrant workers. SAWP workers aren’t eligible for Provincial Nominee Programs. For TFWs, they can apply for the BC PNP under the entry level or semi-skilled category but they need to be offered a full time job within a few fields, meet language requirements (for which they would have access to language training like newcomers if they were eligible for settlement services), and education requirements. And even then, not all are accepted.
As long as access to settlement services are withheld from a majority of migrant workers, they will experience continued exploitation in the workplace by employers who take advantage of their precarious status.
Feature image retrieved from Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.