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Canada is scaling back temporary foreign workers. Critics say the program needs an overhaul

Impact on economy unclear, as advocates seek a path for permanent status

In her social work, Jill Hanley meets with migrant workers who earn their living as caregivers, construction workers and truck drivers in Quebec. She sees a cloud of uncertainty perpetually hanging over them, making it difficult to plan for their future.

That includes something as complex as when they’ll see their kids next — or as simple as signing a lease.

« People end up living in this limbo and feeling disconnected from their neighbours and from the community, » said Hanley.

Starting on May 1, that cloud may get murkier. That’s when Canada’s new rules on hiring temporary foreign workers will take effect.

As part of its plan to shrink the number of temporary residents in Canada by 2027, Canada is cutting the number of low-wage foreign workers that companies can hire in most sectors from 30 per cent to 20 per cent of their workforces.

Health care and construction will remain at 30 per cent, while seasonal industries, such as agriculture, fishing and tourism, are exempted from a cap during their peak seasons.

Canada’s immigration and employment ministers, Marc Miller and Randy Boissonnault, have described the country’s relationship to temporary foreign workers as « addicted » and a « last resort. »

Miller says the changes are intended to « better align with labour market needs. »

Employment and Social Development Canada told CBC News that the changes will only apply to people applying to come work in Canada as of May 1, meaning temporary foreign workers already in Canada will be able to continue working here.

But as changes are about to kick in, some advocates and experts who study migrant labour say it could mean fewer opportunities for workers already here — while doing nothing to fix pressing issues with the program. And economists disagree on what the changes will mean for the businesses that rely on those workers.

Hanely, vice-president of the Montreal-based Immigrant Workers Centre, says many workers with closed permits feel they have no choice but to accept working in dangerous or unhealthy conditions — even if it violates their labour rights — because they can’t easily change employers and need to pay off debts incurred making their journey to Canada.

« We could be pushing people that are here into becoming undocumented because they lose their jobs, » said Hanley, who is also a professor of social work at McGill University and the scientific director of the SHERPA University Institute on Migration and Social Services.

She says this may be the case for temporary foreign workers whose contracts are not renewed or people with visitor or international student status who try to transfer into the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) told CBC News that it has taken measures to allow temporary foreign workers to get out of abusive situations. It pointed to the creation of a helpline for vulnerable workers to report abuse or apply for a specific open work permit that allows vulnerable workers to find work with a different employer.

Jorge Frozzini, a Canada Research Chair in intercultural communication and management technologies at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, thinks the decision comes down to politics rather than economics.

And Syed Hussan, executive director for the advocacy group Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, agrees. He’s accusing Ottawa of trying to « assuage that growing xenophobic idea that migrants are in any way responsible for or causing the affordability crisis. »

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Source : Joe Bongiorno · CBC News · 

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