Refugee, Migrant Groups To See Surge Of ‘Underground’ Temporary Foreign Workers In Canada

April 1, 2015 News
The federal government imposed a moratorium on the use of temporary foreign workers in the fast-food industry.

The federal government imposed a moratorium on the use of temporary foreign workers in the fast-food industry.

Groups who offer services to refugees are bracing for an influx of “underground” migrants following the April 1 deadline for thousands of temporary foreign workers to leave the country.

Many of those workers don’t want to leave, says Loly Rico, president of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

Already, agencies that serve refugees and undocumented migrants have seen an influx, she says.

“We see cases of people coming and looking for options,” says Rico, who works at FCJ Refugee Centre in Toronto.

There are few and some, if not many, of those people will stay without , she says.

“It is a concern for us,” Rico tells Yahoo Canada News.

“Not everybody will have access to services because most services are provided through the provinces and not all provinces provide services to people without status. It’s also a concern because some of them are here with family … They’re in a very vulnerable situation because they can be exploited.”

Under a 2011 change to the temporary foreign worker program, low-skilled workers whose work permits have expired and who have been in Canada for more than four years must leave the country.

They cannot apply for the program again for four years.

Overall numbers unknown

The federal government has not released the figure for how many workers are affected.

A report released last year by Economic and Social Development Canada said there were 84,630 low-skilled TFWs in Canada on Dec. 1, 2013. In 2002, there were 32,029.

Overall, the number of temporary foreign workers jumped from 101,000 in 2002 to 338,000 in 2013, according to a report by the C.D. Howe Institute.

Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, says nobody knows how many undocumented workers are already in Canada. Estimates range from 100,000 to 500,000. For comparison, the total national workforce in Canada is 19 million.

That’s likely to grow as the new TFW rule takes effect, he tells Yahoo Canada News.

The federal government does not have any system that will inform them how many people have left and how many have gone underground, Yussuff says.

“They don’t know. We believe a lot will remain in the country and will remain undocumented for the most part,” he says.

South of the border, the U.S. government has been grappling for years with how to deal with the vast numbers of undocumented residents.

There were 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2012, representing more than five per cent of the work force, according to the Pew Research Centre.

U.S. President Barack Obama announced an amnesty program last year and Yussuff would like to see the same in Canada.

Temporary workers should be offered the chance to apply for permanent status, he says.

Patchwork of support

Canada has offered amnesty in the past but the current government has given no indication that’s a possibility.

Pilot programs were offered in British Columbia and Alberta allowing workers to apply for the provincial nominees program.

Earlier this week, B.C. froze the program, saying the TFW limits had caused a huge backlog in applications.

The Canadian Labour Congress is pressing provinces and municipalities to follow the lead of Toronto, which has an Access Without Fear program that ensures access to city services regardless of status.

The current government made changes to the TFW program that saw a huge increase in the number of temporary workers, Yussuff says. Then they made hasty changes in the face of a public outcry.

“The government seems to be washing its hands of the problem and somehow think the solution is just for everybody to leave and that will solve the problem,” he says.

But the root problems remain. The long-term solution is to increase immigration levels, which have fallen below the numbers of temporary workers.

“That would make it much more helpful for the country in the long-term, having sustained levels of immigration that can come and settle and people can build their roots here, rather than treating them like they’re disposable,” Yussuf says.