Swift opening of applications needed to deal with labour shortage and ensure healthcare and income for migrants
Toronto, June 24, 2022 – Today, the federal government announced in a tweet that open work permits will also be available to graduated international students whose permits expired and will expire between September 20, 2021 and December 31, 2022. On April 22, Minister Sean Fraser announced an Open Work Permit program which was only accessible to graduated students whose permits expired on or after January 31 of this year. For nine weeks, hundreds of students have called their Members of Parliament, marched on the streets and signed petitions to call for the change announced today. However, thousands remain stuck as applications still have not opened. Without valid permits, migrant student workers must leave their jobs during a labour shortage, do not have access to income or healthcare, and face discrimination and exploitation.
“Today the federal government has said that there is light at the end of the tunnel, but thousands are unable to move forward in this tunnel, still without the ability to work, without income and without healthcare,” says Sarom Rho, organizer for Migrant Students United at the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. “Today’s announcement fixes a bad first decision, now we need applications to open and permits to be issued swiftly, migrant student workers who were forced to leave Canada must be included, we need guarantees that those who ended up being forced to do unauthorized work before applications open will not be punished, and we need permanent resident status for all, especially those in low-waged work.”
Punith Reddy is a former international student and graduate of Mohawk College, who is now undocumented. He was forced to resign from his job as an Operations Manager at Walmart because he could not renew his work permit. He says, “Migrant student workers like me fought for these changes, and we won. But the government still has not told us when we will be able to apply to renew our work permits, and until then, I cannot go back to work, I cannot access healthcare or make decisions about my future. Because of this immense uncertainty and without knowing whether I can stay here, I wasn’t able to renew my lease. I had to move out, sell my things, and now, I’m living with friends. So many of us are still in limbo. We need permanent resident status for all of us, immediately.”
Since September 14, 2021, Canada has not had any immigration draws for the Canadian Experience Class program under Express Entry, which is the stream most commonly used by migrant student workers. Minister Fraser promised that draws will resume in July, but this 9 month delay has had disastrous consequences.
“I’m relieved we will be able to apply for the work permit, but the crisis is far from over,” says Shefali Mann, a migrant student worker and graduate of Humber College whose permit expired in December of last year. “The program shouldn’t have been executed this way. We have to start looking for jobs again, but without the actual permit, I cannot renew my expired Social Insurance Number, which I need in order to get hired. I applied for permanent residency in August 2021, yet because of the 9 month delay in draws, I’m worried I will no longer qualify for PR. I worked multiple jobs, as a Digital Marketing Strategist and Coordinator, as well as a cashier and retail worker, yet only some of my work is counted toward PR. Why is the federal government picking and choosing what work is valuable and what work isn’t? All work must be valued, especially the essential jobs that migrant student workers like us do.”
Even as draws are promised to resume, the Express Entry pathway is restricted to migrants with high-waged work experience in Canada, even though the most essential jobs in Canada, many in sectors with a labour shortage, are for low-waged workers. Current and former international students work in food service, warehousing, gig work, delivery, security, cleaning and other low-waged jobs. Parliamentary motion, M-44, has given the federal government until September 8th to table a plan for immigration for workers of all skill levels.
In addition to calling for an immigration stream for low waged workers, migrant student workers are also calling for the removal of the 20 hour work limit.
Harshill Dhingra, an international student who graduated from the Business and Accounting program at Humber College this month, says, “Because of the 20 hour work limit on our study permits, many of us are forced to stay quiet even after repeated wage theft and exploitation by our employers. Last year, I injured my left finger in a very bad accident while working on cash at a restaurant. Even though other employees were also working on cash, the crucial difference was in our status. They were permanent residents and citizens. As a migrant, I could not speak up fearing for my status, I had repercussions to think about, and I know I’m not the only one, we need full and permanent immigration status for all so that we can protect ourselves and speak up for our rights.”
Sarom Rho, 416-887-8315, firstname.lastname@example.org, Migrant Workers Alliance for Change
See Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s tweet: https://twitter.com/SeanFraserMP/status/1540362921250807811
Thousands of migrant student workers have already signed a petition directed at Prime Minister Trudeau calling for fairness: https://migrantworkersalliance.org/msufairness/.
- To qualify for permanent residence, graduated migrant student workers must complete at least 1 year of high-waged work. This work must be completed before their non-renewable post graduate work permit (PGWP) expires. Permits vary in length from 8 months to 3 years. Most migrant student workers were unable to access these jobs during COVID-19.
- In January 2021, in response to Migrant Students United organizing, the federal government made PGWPs renewable, a move that stopped the deportation of 52,000 people but the temporary program expired in July 2021. The program was available to graduated students whose work permits were expiring until November 27, 2021.
- On April 22, 2022, federal immigration Minister Sean Fraser again responded to Migrant Students United and announced a new open work permit program for expired or expiring PGWP holders, but arbitrarily and unfairly left out those whose permits expired before January 31, 2022.
- On April 22, 2022, Minister Fraser, also announced the re-opening of the “Canadian Experience Class” permanent resident immigration program, which has been closed since September 2021. However, the processing has not started yet, and thousands of migrant student workers continue to become undocumented, or cannot work.
- The Canadian Experience Class is also only available to migrants in high-waged work, while the most essential jobs in Canada, in industries with the highest labour shortages, are low-waged jobs, many of which are being done by migrant student workers.
- Migrant student tuition increased 7.25% in 2020, while domestic student tuition increased by 1.65%. Post-secondary institutions exploit migrant students, as can be seen in the case of Alpha College in Scarborough.
- Migrant student workers in public institutions face restrictions on their study permits and can only work 20 hours per week off-campus.
- With high tuition fees and limited income, many international students work past the 20 hour limit, forcing them to work under the table, which opens them up to labour exploitation.