Liberate the Work Permit for Temporary Foreign Workers in Canada

It always boils down to poverty and nothing else. I remember one college professor in my sociology course back in the late 80s in one of the universities in the Philippines saying that Filipinos will always be exploited to their bones for the simple reason that they are poor. They can easily be bought, she blatantly said in one of her afternoon lectures on deviant behavior. After more than 30 years and about three thousand miles, her words on that afternoon still reverberates in my ears whenever clients come to me and tell stories of exploitation from employers, harassment from recruiters (legal and illegal), exorbitant fees being charged by Canada immigration consultants in exchange of most sought after service available now in coffee and burger town Alberta – application for Canadian permanent residency.

How come I never heard of these kinds of stories when I came to this country in the mid-90s? Everything about everything Canada was great. The police force was the greatest, the crime rate was the lowest, and the average Canadian were the most polite and caring people in the world. A far cry from my native Manila or Quezon City where I first emerged as an adult trying to survive the everyday life in an urban centre riddled with criminality and corruptions. Canada was just the best I thought not until I embedded myself in the Temporary Foreign Worker Support Services Program at the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers three years ago.

It is just a big surprise for me that Canada has become no different from the notorious countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Singapore, Hong-Kong, and other cheap labour starving countries in Asia and Middles East in terms of their government policies and treatment towards their foreign workers. Not a single file in my almost 500 or 1000 caseloads that have accumulated in my more than three years in the program is spared by stories of exploitation (physical, financial and emotional), violation of employment contracts by employers, unpaid wages, unpaid overtime hours, overstaying TFWs, unauthorized work, family separations, divorce. The sweatshops of Hong-Kong and Taiwan would look like convents if you put them side by side with the back of coffee shops and restaurants in Canada. This is totally different from the Canada that I have learned to love ever since I passed the immigration in Vancouver, BC in April of 1995. Has Canada failed in its Temporary Foreign Worker Program? I think it did, big time.

I don’t know if the government purposely designed the program to fail in the end or everything was just an oversight? Or is it really to boost immigration so more people can contribute to the economy of the nation, or they created the program to serve other groups? I can see a conspiracy between the government and the private sector (I hope nobody in plainclothes would drag me out from my town house in the middle of the night for saying this). They could have fixed the problems a bit by at least liberating the work permit in Canada. The work permits being closed (employer specific, location specific) is opening a lot of doors for corruptions on the part of immigration consultants, recruiters and employers, and abuses on the part of the temporary foreign workers. I am not an expert on this but I think this one step of liberating the work permit can go a long way in making the lives of the Temporary Foreign Workers in Canada a lot easier, at least for the time being.

Greg Lopez
Immigration Program Student at Ashton College
under the tutelage of Jose Godoy Toku

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