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Sunday, May 26, 2024
Worker mobility key concern with changes to foreign worker program
William Arias Sanchel from Mexico pruning a grape vine on Lakeshore Road near Firelane 6 in NOTL. Arias Sanchel is one of thousands of temporary foreign workers in the region who don't have permanent residency in Canada. RICHARD WRIGHT

Alliance wants feds to go further and grant permanent residency


Proposed changes to Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program that will directly affect thousands of Niagara-on-the-Lake seasonal workers won’t come soon enough and don’t go far enough, says the head of one of Ontario’s leading advocacy groups for migrant workers.

“The changes that are being floated aren’t going to come into effect until 2027,” said Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

“What we need today is for the federal government to ensure permanent resident status.”

Permanent residency allows people to live, work and study in Canada for an indefinite period, putting them on a much easier trajectory to full citizenship status, which they can apply for after three years.

Temporary residency permits foreign nationals to stay in Canada for a limited time. Most NOTL seasonal workers are only here months before they are being required to return to their home countries. 

Both have protection under Canadian law and access to social benefits such as health care. Neither are allowed to vote or run for public office.

The current proposed changes to the program outlined in a federal government document obtained by The Lake Report calls for a number of changes, including “measures to increase protections for workers, to reduce administrative burdens for employers, and to help ensure employers can access workers quickly to fill short term labour market gaps.”

Agriculture workers make up the bulk of the temporary workforce hired in NOTL. They are employed under the program’s primary agriculture stream, which features four sub streams. 

What has now been proposed is a new single agriculture and fish processing stream to replace the four sub streams.

A highlight of the new category is a “sector-specific work permit which will allow workers to change jobs and move to another employer with a LIMA (labour market impact assessment) without having to apply for a new work permit.”

This gives workers more control over selecting the jobs and employers they want to work for after they arrive in NOTL without threat or fear of repercussions.

The government plans to phase in the new stream over the next three years, but not before holding a number of face-to-face meetings with stakeholders, including Hussan’s Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

“We don’t know (what to think) yet,” he said. “We are waiting for the consultation process. It is so far from the final product, we need to see more.”

Consultations are scheduled to begin this month.


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