The Migrant Rights Network, Canada’s largest migrant-led coalition, has launched an online voluntary survey tool to determine whether migrants and graduates are eligible for the federal government’s unique programme. More than 3,000 people responded between April 15 and May 1. The results were then analysed by the organisation, which were neither scientific nor nationally representative.
It discovered that students and workers face several challenges in gaining access to the new one-time immigration programme announced by Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino in April.
According to the Migrant Rights Network, 45 per cent of migrant workers and 35 per cent of international graduates who responded to the survey were ineligible for the programme, which began on Thursday.
According to the survey, nearly half of international students and 67% of migrant workers do not have the required language test results. It was also discovered that the cost of applying, completing language schooling and tests, and other required paperwork is prohibitively expensive for some.
This is the situation that Gary, a migrant farmworker, is in. He moved to Canada from Mexico in 2013 and has been working on farms in Ontario ever since. We are not disclosing Gary’s full name because he is afraid of retaliation from his employer and deportation.
He claims he cannot participate in the programme and reunite with his family because he has not completed the required English language test and cannot afford the cost of language schooling, the test, and the application.
Gary claims that he has taught himself basic English over the years but that the test’s reading and writing requirements are too complex and would necessitate additional schooling, which he cannot afford.
“We don’t need small, one-time, exclusionary pilot programmes; we need a complete overhaul of the immigration system so that every resident in the country has the same immigration status and, as a result, equal access to labour rights, health care, and other essential services.” These are life and death issues,” says Syed Hussan of the Migrant Rights Network secretariat.
According to the organisation, the programme also excludes undocumented people, refugees, students, and migrants in Quebec, a population of over one million people. The immigration process in Quebec differs from that of other provinces. It retains authority over who can immigrate to the province. People in Quebec can apply for the programme if they plan to leave the province and live elsewhere.
The immigration department will begin accepting up to 50,000 applications from health care and other essential workers and 40,000 applications from international graduates who meet the government’s criteria on May 6. In total, 90,000 people will be granted permanent residence under the programme.
The new temporary programme is intended to assist the government in meeting its goal of admitting 401,000 new permanent residents this year.
“The pandemic has highlighted the incredible contributions of newcomers,” Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said at the time. “These new policies will assist those with temporary status in planning their future in Canada, play an important role in our economic recovery, and assist us in rebuilding better.”
To be eligible for the new programme, workers must have worked in a healthcare profession or another government-approved essential role in Canada for at least one year. International graduates must have finished a post-secondary programme in Canada within the last four years.
Workers must also be employed in Canada with a valid work permit, have an English test result, and all of their documents at the time of application, all of which are difficult to meet due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Embassy closures, limited spots for language training and tests, and mass layoffs due to the pandemic have also prevented people from applying, according to the organisation.
According to the Migrant Rights Network, the application and other paperwork could cost thousands of dollars, and many workers earn minimum wage. The application’s price has not yet been announced.
Many migrant workers are not required to take an English language test to work in Canada.
“The new pathway to permanent residency for essential workers and international graduates is one of the most inclusive and innovative programmes that IRCC has ever launched. Its size, speed, and scope are unprecedented,” said Alexander Cohen, Minister Mendicino’s spokesperson. “The range of eligible occupations has never been more inclusive, from bricklayers to bus drivers to custodians.”
Cohen claims that the immigration department is aware of the difficulties in obtaining language testing and that more testing slots will be added soon. He also stated that they are open to offering other solutions in the future to make language exams more accessible.
“We will continue to forge new paths to welcome more newcomers because we know that immigration is critical to Canada’s economic recovery and long-term prosperity,” Cohen said in an email.
The Migrant Rights Network is urging the federal government to grant permanent resident status to all migrant and undocumented people in Canada and allow all working-class migrants to arrive in the future with permanent resident status.
According to the organisation, since the program’s announcement, chaos and confusion have swept through these communities, putting people at risk of being taken advantage of by bad actors.