Critics say the new policy is "devastating" and will make work more precarious.
As of today, an estimated 70,000 temporary foreign workers have lost their legal status in Canada. Under a new, so-called “4 and 4” rule, migrant workers can only labour in Canada for four years; once they leave the country, they must wait another four years to re-apply for a work permit. Over the weekend, dozens of demonstrators gathered in front of a citizenship office in midtown Toronto to say the new rules are dividing communities and weakening Canada’s economy.
Syed Hussan of the Migrant Workers’ Alliance for Change told Torontoist on Sunday that, although the new rule covers the period from April 1, 2011, many affected workers have actually been here much longer. “We’re seeing this new wave of mass exclusion of migrant workers,” Hussan said. “To deport a trained workforce, and then to replace it with a new set of workers who won’t know their rights, will create more precariousness and more vulnerability.”
Demonstrators brought plants, planter boxes, soil, and vegetable seedlings to the demonstration outside the Citizenship and Immigration office at 55 St. Clair Avenue East. They proceeded to create a makeshift garden at the entrance, as musicians sang behind them. “Our position is that these people are rooted in our communities,” said Hussan.
Demonstrators planned to take home the newly potted plants and produce, but also to leave part of the garden for citizenship officials. “These are people who grow our food, take care of our children, and grow our economy,” Hussan added.
Torontoist reached out to several groups who work with and support temporary foreign workers for direct comment. In all cases, representatives said workers were too fearful to speak out because of their precarious status. Workers affected by the “4 and 4” rule are expected to leave by today’s date, and any who remain in Canada will become undocumented persons.
Evelyn Encalada of Justice for Migrant Workers called the new rule “devastating” to migrant workers and their families. “They want mobility and the choice to stay here,” Encalada said. “These programs are a system of citizenship and immigration apartheid, labour apartheid, where some people are made to live in a parallel universe with different rights.”
Encalada also stressed that workers in other countries are leaving for Canada because of few options in a struggling global economy. “There’s little choice when you can no longer live off the land and grow corn like your family has for several generations,” said Encalda, who researches labour standards in central America and the Caribbean.
The demonstration was briefly interrupted when a handful of supporters from Immigration Watch, a radical anti-immigrant group, stood on the opposite side of St. Clair Avenue near the event, and unfurled a banner bearing the group’s name. Police stood between Immigration Watch and several pro-migrant demonstrators who crossed the street to confront them. Last year, Immigration Watch released a flyer that branded Brampton’s Sikh community as outsiders.
Hussan said it is unlikely that Canadians will replace the migrant workers, many of whom are live-in caregivers and farm workers. “There are almost no Canadian citizens who are doing these kinds of jobs…the wages and working conditions are very bad.” Hussan added that workers who have retained their employment for years in Canada should have a pathway to Canadian citizenship. “I think they should be given permanent residence so they become the citizens who hold these jobs. If we want citizens to hold these jobs, give [the workers] citizenship.”