Migrant Rights Network Brief – Employment Insurance for Migrants

This submission by Migrant Rights Network addresses the glaring and unjust gap in the EI program that denies income security to an entire group of unemployed workers. Fixing this gap requires reforms to EI as well as immigration laws.

We are making the following recommendations in addition to those by the Interprovincial EI Working Group.

Solution #1: Canada must reform its immigration laws to ensure full and permanent immigration status for all migrant and undocumented people in Canada. In the short-term, all restrictions on work must be removed including employer specific work permits, restrictions on hours of work, and exclusion of work in “businesses related to sex trade”.  

Solution #2: Canada must amend the Employment Insurance Act to ensure that all work in Canada is “insurable” for the purposes of accessing EI, regardless of SIN. Canada should pursue employers who fail to submit EI premiums, rather than punishing workers. 

Solution #3: In order to end disentitlement due to administrative error, Service Canada must immediately issue instructions to Service Canada agents confirming eligibility for EI for migrant workers and ensure this information is incorporated into training. 

Solution #4: Service Canada must ensure the EI application process is accessible to all, including through interpretation services, simple explanations of the process, clear information upfront that the Record of Employment is not needed to submit an application, and alternatives to online applications / communications. 

Solution #5: Amend the Employment Insurance Regulation to end discriminatory disentitlements to special benefits for workers outside of the country or with expired SINs. 

Solution #6: Canada must take all steps necessary to ensure that information workers submit to EI is not shared with immigration officials.

Migrant Rights Network – Letter re Income Supports for Migrants

Letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Members of Canada’s Federal Cabinet Re: Regulatory changes to ensure Canada Emergency Response Benefit is available to migrants and undocumented residents

As you discuss developing regulations to implement the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), we urge you to ensure that all residents of Canada, regardless of immigration status or previous work entitlements, are able to get income supports.

  1. The benefit is currently defined as available to “residents”. ‘Resident’ must be broadly defined to include any resident of Canada, regardless of immigration status, including undocumented residents, refugee claimants, temporary foreign workers, study permit holders and others.
    • There were 874,770 new temporary work, study or humanitarian permits issued in 2019. In addition, there are at least 500,000 undocumented residents in Canada.
  2. The benefit is limited to residents who have earned at least $5,000 in the previous 12 months. Specific measures need to be enacted to ensure workers who have not earned as much, have not been able to report their earnings and/or have not been in Canada that long, are protected.
    • An average of 48,000 new residents arrived each month in the first quarter of 2019. The numbers are similar in Canada for January and February 2020.
    • Many temporary foreign workers have been laid off from their jobs or seen their hours reduced in care work, retail, and tourism industries. Study permit holders have lost on-campus jobs, and seen hours reduced.
  3. Workers who have seen their hours of work or wages reduced – which is many of our members – must be able to get income supports.
  4. Specific tools should be developed to ensure that undocumented residents and other informal economy workers are able to access income supports.
    • There should be no requirement for Social Insurance Numbers.
    • Guarantees should be created so that information is not shared with immigration enforcement.
    • Proof of income should be interpreted widely, as cash economy workers do not receivepaystubs, have bank accounts or pay regular taxes.
  5. A dedicated delivery mechanism must be created in coordination with our groups to ensure that migrants are aware of and able to apply for income supports.
  6. All workers who are facing job loss or a cut to hours of work should receive $2000/month whetherthrough CERB or Employment Insurance, including workers outside Canada, who are unable to come because of health concerns or border closures, and those in quarantine.
  7. Benefits should be available to those who due to disability or other reason are unable to work.

Migrant Worker Policy Priorities – May 2019


There are a number of issues of key concern to migrant workers and their support organizations across Canada at this moment. These include:

  1. Employment and Social Development Canada proposals for an occupation specific work permit;
  2. Interim Pathway for Caregivers, set to expire on June 4th, 2019;
  3. Proposal for the creation of permanent residency pilot program for non-seasonal agricultural workers and a permanent residency program for Caregivers; and
  4. Regulations for the creation of an Open Work Permit Program for temporary foreign workers at risk of abuse.

For migrant workers at the receiving end of these programs and proposals, these issues are interconnected. To engage in separate consultations on each matter, and only speak to a part of an issue rather than the whole further fragments the ability of migrant workers to give meaningful input. For these reasons, we are submitting one document that addresses all four issues.

As elaborated below, migrant workers in Canada continue to demand:

  1. Permanent resident status on arrival for all migrant workers in Canada through the creation of a Federal Workers Program for care workers, and in consultation with migrant workers in other streams;
  2. In the interim, creation of open or occupation specific work permits that are not reliant on employers that would allow workers to move freely between jobs and workplaces and work for any employer in a sector;
  3. The extension and then grandparenting of the Interim Pathway for care workers to ensure that no worker is left behind;
  4. Immediate implementation of an Open Work Permit Program for workers facing risk of abuse or being abused.

In this policy memo, the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change*, Association for the Rights of Household & Farm Workers (ARHW)- Montreal, Caregiver Connections Education and Support Organization (CCESO) – Toronto, Caregivers Action Centre – Toronto, Cooper Institute – PEI, FCJ Refugee Centre – Toronto, Immigrant Workers Centre (IWC) Montreal, Income Security Advocacy Centre – Toronto, Migrant Worker Solidarity Network – Manitoba, Migrant Workers Centre (BC), Migrante Alberta, Migrante BC, Migrante Canada, Migrante Manitoba, Migrante Ontario, Migrante Ottawa, Migrante Quebec, Migrants Resource Centre Canada – Toronto, PINAY – Quebec, RAMA – Okanagan, Sanctuary Health – Vancouver and Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights (CDWCR) propose a joint position on all these matters.

* The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change includes individuals as well as Asian Community Aids Services, Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support), Caregiver Connections Education and Support Organization, Caregivers Action Centre, Durham Region Migrant Solidarity Network, FCJ Refugee House, GABRIELA Ontario, IAVGO Community Legal Clinic, Income Security Advocacy Centre, Migrante Ontario, No One Is Illegal – Toronto, Northumberland Community Legal Centre, OCASI – Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, OHIP For All, PCLS Community Legal Clinic, SALCO Community Legal Clinic, Students Against Migrant Exploitation, UFCW, UNIFOR, Workers Action Centre and Workers United.  


Submissions to Gender Wage Gap Strategy Committee

Read in full HERE.

To understand how the gender wage gap affects women migrant workers it is important, first, to understand who women migrant workers are and what are the social dynamics that characterize their precarity in Ontario. Second, it is important to understand the legal frameworks that institutionalize their precarity in ways that very predictably leave them subject to intense gender discrimination, wage theft and other rights violations that deepen the wage gap. Third, it is important to recognize that these dynamics of systemic discrimination demand a response that is equally systemic and multi-dimensional. A wide range of changes need to be made and need to work together to eliminate the precarity that enables and sustains employer behaviour that impoverishes migrant women workers.

In the case of agricultural workers, research and anecdotal evidence from our member organizations has shown that many women participating in the program are single mothers from rural regions who have limited economic opportunities in their home communities. (Encalada Grez, 2011). In the case of domestic workers, research and anecdotal evidence from our member organizations has shown that women are single mothers, or married but in either case are primary caregivers.

Women migrant workers that we work with see labour migration as a survival strategy that provides opportunities to support themselves and their families that are impossible to access in their home contexts which are often characterized by unemployment, underemployment, underdevelopment, civil unrest and/or home governments that have actively adopted labour export policies as their dominant economic strategy. This effectively forces women into migration for work and produces a precarity that means women can be coerced into enduring profoundly discriminatory treatment because of their need to maintain the employee relationship while in Canada. Research found that women in agriculture try to keep their jobs in Canada by increasing their productivity, attempting to outperform men and sometimes acquiescing to exploitative and sub-standard working and living conditions (Encalada Grez, 2011).

While in Canada, employers exert an astonishing intrusive degree of surveillance and supervision over women migrant workers’ non-working time. This surveillance and supervision exceeds even that imposed on male migrant workers and includes imposing stricter curfews, asserting greater control over their living conditions, and controlling social interactions. Romantic relationships are sometimes explicitly prohibited via contracts, and often implicitly prohibited. Pregnancy may result in termination or preclude a worker from being invited back in to the program. Harassment and violence by male co-workers and male employers often goes unreported. Harassment and violence as a result of the joint nexus of gender, racialization, and lack of permanent immigration status in towns, cities and communities where migrant workers are is also largely unreported.

The cumulative effects of these constraints gravely impacts women migrant workers wages that are often paid below or at minimum wage, lower than both their male counterparts and Canadian citizens. As the Closing the Gender Wage Gap: A Background Paper notes, racialized women face a gender wage gap of 36.8%. Additionally, we are aware that migrant workers, most of whom are restricted to working in low-waged industries or unable to assert their rights as a result of being undocumented, earn the absolute least amount of wages. While we have not been able to do a comprehensive analysis of the wages of migrant workers vis-à-vis the broader workforce, it is certain that racialized women with temporary or no immigration status earn even less than racialized women in general.

When looking at the legal frameworks, it is clear that the gender wage gap for women migrant workers is driven by a number of systemic dynamics that subject women migrant workers to low pay and that subject them to widespread practices of wage theft and other violations of workplace rights which deepen their wage disparity and isolation in the labour market.

Read in full HERE.