Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) is “in need of a critical rethink”, according to a Canadian Senate committee.
“Over the course of the last couple of years, we have heard various concerns about temporary foreign workers and there is an interest in our committee to address these concerns,” said Senator Stan Kutcher in a recent interview with CTVNews.ca.
“So we undertook the study to actually learn about the program to see if the program was meeting the needs that it was initially designed to do, or whether those need to change, if the programs needed to be revised.”
The study – which has been in the works for months – comes in tandem with UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Tomoya Obokata, calling the program “breeding grounds for contemporary forms of slavery.”
Obokata further asked the Canadian government to streamline permanent residence pathways for workers kept in otherwise precarious limbos of temporary residence.
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During its course, the involved senators have been conducting a “thorough” evaluation of all aspects of the program, said Kutcher. This included the experiences of temporary foreign workers, their employers, and the communities hosting them.
On visiting the rural communities in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island earlier this month, senators were allowed to interact with the temporary foreign workers, their employers, local politicians, and community settlement agencies and non-government organizations support the workers’ needs.
“Mixed reviews” have been heard about the program so far.
While migrants had “very positive things” to say about their employment and living conditions in some cases, they had “great difficulties” related to the same in other instances.
“The program, which is now many, many years old, is probably in need of a critical rethink in order to ensure that the rights of temporary foreign workers that come to Canada are respected and adhered to—that the working conditions are appropriate and meet Canadian standards,” added Kutcher to CTVNews.ca.
A recent news release from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), which is also responsible for assessing applications from employers asking for permission to hire foreign workers) reported on the TFWP and its compliance with rules.
Of the 2,100 ESDC-led inspections of workplaces hosting temporary foreign workers, 94 percent of employers were reported to be compliant with the program’s conditions.
Those that were non-compliant – in matters such as failing to provide up-to-par wages, requisite accommodations, and safe work conditions – were either fined or banned from using the TFWP for up to five years.
The TFWP allows Canadian employers to hire international workers to fill temporary openings at their companies that are left unoccupied by Canadians.
Administered in partnership with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), the program assesses the impact by considering “available labor market information for the region and the occupation, the employers’ recruitment and advertisement efforts, wages and working conditions, labor shortages and the transfer of skills and knowledge to Canadians.
The massive scale of the TFWP is illustrated through the fact that in just the agricultural sector, 60,992 foreign workers were immigrated to the country under the program’s tenets.
Just the following year, 70,365 agricultural workers temporarily immigrated to Canada.
The top countries for sending workers for this sector under the program were Mexico (29,798 workers in 2022), Guatemala (18,948 workers in 2022), and Jamaica (9,362 workers).
The total number of temporary workers increased seven-fold from 111,000 in 2000 to 777,000 in 2021.
Workers were especially involved with industries such as agriculture (15%); accommodation and food services (10%); and administrative and support, waste management and remediation services (10%).
Syed Hussan, who is the executive director of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, has been long calling for permanent residency for all immigrants to Canada.
Many issues plague temporary residents, he claims, such as lacking access to public healthcare and being exploited and underpaid by employers at times.
He told CTVNews.ca that “the only solution is permanent resident status. So long as workers don’t have the ability to protect themselves, they face eviction, deportation, homelessness, simply for speaking up.”
“And we can’t have a fair society without equality, and equality is not possible with so many people who don’t have permanent immigration status.”