On February 19, 2013, the Ontario Liberals introduced the Ontario Immigration Act (Bill 161). Through Bill 161, the government is seeking control over immigration to Ontario. An important goal of the bill is to enable “immigrants to settle in Ontario and integrate quickly into and to participate fully in Ontario society.” As currently written, however, Bill 161 will not achieve this goal for the majority of migrant workers that come to this province. It is essential that key revisions be made to this Bill, otherwise new legislation will be necessary.
A genuine Ontario Immigration Act must include just access for migrant workers. This means:
- Inclusion: Full immigration status and access to benefits
- Accountability: regulating recruiters and employers
- Breaking down silos: Cooperation between governments
- Proactive enforcement
Bill 161 fails to do so.
In bringing forward much-needed policy and legislation on immigration and migrant workers in this province, the government has the opportunity to create a legislative framework of fairness; a framework grounded on the principle that workers that come to work and build this province should be allowed to stay if they chose and access the benefits of their labour. In short, Ontario’s immigration policy must support access to residency status to all workers and protection for temporary workers from recruiter and employer exploitation. The Bill fails to do this.
Unfortunately, Bill 161 appears to be focused on bringing Ontario in line with the federal government’s “Expression –of-Interest” model of immigration slated to come into effect next year. This new federal system will set up a system to allow governments and employers to select immigrants based on employment and labour market needs. Bill 161 would enable the Ontario government to create selection programs for permanent residents (for example, under the Provincial Nominee Program) or temporary workers (for example, under the temporary foreign worker program). The Bill would also allow the government to set up a registry of employers and recruiters to participate in selection programs.
The government is seeking to be more competitive with other jurisdictions in order to boost Ontario’s economic class immigrants from the current 52% to 70% of all immigrants to the province. It would do this through an increase in the number of immigrants that Ontario can select under the Provincial Nominee Program from the current 2,500 to 5,000 per year with a focus on economic class immigrants rather than workers that continue to build the province through temporary foreign workers programs (construction, caregiving, farming, hospitality services etc).
We are concerned that Bill 161 will give recruiters and employers more control over the immigration selection process and not civil society. There is nothing in the Bill to address the exorbitant fees that recruiters charge workers for employment under these programs. Nor is there anything in the bill to address substandard employment conditions that all too many migrant workers face that come through such selection programs. The Ontario Government is going in the opposite direction of the best practices established by Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia that have legislated proactive protection from exploitation by recruiters and employers.
Download our analysis of Bill 161 and what a genuine Ontario immigration act would be: Creating a Genuine and Fair Ontario Immigration Act.
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