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Are other migrant workers being overlooked in Canada’s efforts to attract tech workers?


Canada hopes to encourage more tech workers to visit and work in the country. But in their effort to do so, critics of the plan worry that the rights of other migrant workers will be lost in the process.

In an announcement last week, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said the federal government is exploring a list of possible policies to encourage high-earning tech workers to tour the country and boost its tech sector, such as a revamped digital nomad scheme and dedicated open work permits.

While the initiative could help attract thousands of new workers to fill labor shortages and spur innovation, experts say the government risks perpetuating an unequal immigration system that grants more mobility and freedom to some. workers than others.

“If it is possible to create an open work authorization for the technology industry to allow flexibility for labor mobility…that same [principle] it must extend to all migrants,” said Syed Hussan, executive director of the Toronto-based advocacy group Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

“Why do certain groups of people have more rights…and others don’t?”

Hussan and others working in the field say open work permits and flexible work schemes granted to tech workers should be made more available to all types of migrant workers, particularly those in industries experiencing their own shortages, such as agriculture. , personal care and medical care. .

People in these industries, many from developing countries who earn low wages, typically receive restricted visas that limit their stay in Canada based on their work with an employer, make it difficult to qualify for health care coverage, and restrict their ability. to report labor abuses for fear of losing their permits, she said.

Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, says that open work permits and flexible work schemes granted to tech workers should be more widely available to all types of migrant workers, particularly those engaged in agriculture, personal care and health care. (CBC)

“Canada needs to have the ability for workers in any different wage category to come here with the same rights, and that’s the fundamental problem,” Hussan said.

According The latest data from Statistics Canada, Industries struggling with the highest job vacancy rates include agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting; healthcare and social assistance; and accommodation and food services. Ottawa recently launched a separate temporary foreign worker program aimed at immigrants working in these industries, among others.

Division between richer and poorer workers

Canada began prioritizing more-skilled tech workers sometime in the 1990s because of the rise of the internet, said Valerie Ann Preston, a professor in the school of environmental and urban change at York University in Toronto.

She said this marked the beginning of extended benefits given to highly-skilled workers on temporary permits, such as not being tied to individual employers, allowing their spouses to work when immigrating to Canada, and providing easier access to permanent residence.

A woman sitting at a table looks at an open laptop in front of her.
Highly skilled workers with temporary permits in Canada have been granted additional benefits, such as not being tied to a single employer, allowing their spouses to work upon immigrating to Canada, and facilitating access to permanent residence. (Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock)

“What’s interesting to me is that we maintained the privileged position of high-tech workers,” Preston said.

Many of these tech workers come disproportionately from wealthier and more developed regions of the world, Preston said. They include North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea. Meanwhile, other migrant workers who are often given more limited work visas come disproportionately from Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and parts of Asia.

They are often highly trained in their home country’s industries, but have difficulty transferring those skills to the Canadian market, which may be due to limitations on their work permits, so they end up doing an “exchange” working in in-demand industries. said Preston.

“They may come with a lot of skills and a lot of experience, but they’re going into jobs that don’t offer pathways for career advancement…they’re going into jobs that don’t pay well.”

How to fix the ‘2-tier’ system

John Shields, a professor of public policy and administration at Toronto Metropolitan University, said the government’s move to attract tech workers fits with its broader plan to use immigration as a way to address labor shortages, driven by an aging population and a skills gap around the world. board.

But Canada risks codifying inequity into immigration law if it continues to give more leeway to those at the “supposed top” of the labor market without adjusting its acceptance criteria for those in different but equally important industries. , said.

CLOCK | Foreign workers trained for in-demand jobs working elsewhere:

Are other migrant workers being overlooked in Canadas efforts

Foreign workers trained for in-demand jobs like nursing are working in NL fish plants

Some temporary foreign workers who come to Newfoundland to work at fish plants are certified nurses and early childhood educators, of whom the province desperately needs more. Tony Fang, a professor of economics at Memorial University, talks about the skills mismatch.

“There’s a bit of a two-tier system here where for those lower-skilled jobs, you see a lot of emphasis in the immigration program on temporary migration, where people really have a hard time qualifying for stay.” Shields said.

“And yet…those areas are often in high demand, and they’re not things that Canadian-born workers or immigrants who have been here for a longer period of time want to do.”

When asked if the government would consider expanding permits open to other migrant workers, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said that while employer-specific work permits “protect” the Canadian labor market, it understands “the need for flexibility in This space”.

“This is why, since 2019, we have allowed foreign nationals with an employer-specific work permit to apply for an open work permit if they face abuse or are at risk of abuse in their workplace,” spokeswoman Sofica Lukianenko said in a statement. communicated by email. , adding that people can also apply for new work permits and change employers quickly if they have another job offer.

But for Hussan, the government must shift toward an immigration system that grants all workers permanent residency upon arrival, forgoing a multi-tiered system altogether. For Shields, increasing pathways to permanent residency for all workers is a start.

“We need to fill those gaps in the entire job market, and that includes some of these other areas that really should be better recognized and better paid as well,” Shields said.

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