(Facebook/University of Victoria)

(Facebook/University of Victoria)

Fixing Canada’s ‘exploitative’ immigration system

Thousands of students who have come to Canada with hopes of finding permanent work

By Alastair Sharp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer

Thousands of students who came to Canada recently with hopes they could move from school to permanent work and residency instead face falling into the cash economy or deportation without an urgent fix from Ottawa to what they say is a Kafkaesque immigration system.

One of them is Alina Przybyl, who worries she will be unable to find enough of the right kind of work to secure her life in Canada amid COVID-19 restrictions and a tight labour market.

“I really want to get into front-line work,” said Przybyl, who graduated in April from George Brown College with a social work diploma and plans to counsel assaulted women and children.

It is a predicament that could ensnare some 17,000 students and recent graduates holding expiring permits, whom activists say could be forced to leave by the end of the year.

“Millions of people in Canada lost work and wages during COVID-19, but for migrant students, there’s an added cost,” said Sarom Rho, national co-ordinator for Migrant Students United. “Because without jobs, migrant students can’t apply for permanent residency.”

To protest that point, Rho, Pryzbyl and other migrant worker and student activists installed a three-metre-high postgraduate work permit at a downtown Toronto immigration office on Sunday.

The students and activists were calling on Ottawa to make postgrad work permits (PGWP) renewable, and want the federal Liberal government to make several other adjustments to the immigration system due to the pandemic.

These include counting all work towards employment requirements, removing time limits and industry restrictions, lowering the points requirement for skilled workers in Canada’s comprehensive ranking system and only charging migrant students domestic tuition rates.

Under the current rules, Przybyl, a migrant student from Poland, says she needs to find full-time permanent work in her field or another highly qualified position for it to count towards requirements for an eventual permanent residency application.

But most of the available jobs in her field are temporary or part-time positions, she said, acknowledging that domestic students face the same dim prospects, but without such heightened consequences.

“I feel like I’m completely detached from reality and there is someone making up weird immigration rules that don’t work for me and definitely don’t work for Canada,” she said.

Przybyl was working as a waitress in the restaurant at Bodega Henriette when the pandemic hit. She got another job in August, but her new employer couldn’t offer more than 15 hours a week and tighter restrictions reintroduced in Toronto two weeks ago ended that, too.

Rho said that with processing times stretching out much longer than before, some recent graduates are still waiting to hear back about their postgrad permit applications, meaning they do not hold an active social insurance number (SIN) and cannot legally work or claim unemployment or pandemic relief benefits.

“For students and workers, all migrant workers, because we don’t have equal status, it creates conditions of vulnerability and exploitation” by those who try to “make profit off of precarity,” said Rho from Migrant Students United, which is part of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

The plight of young people poised to join the ranks of Canada’s educated workforce before the pandemic hit is a key test of the Trudeau government’s commitment to ensuring both social justice and economic resiliency, the activists say.

Rho pointed out a member of Migrant Students United in Halifax, where there is a shortage of educational assistants, was offered an EA job, but couldn’t take it because it would not count towards the work experience she needs to present to Canadian immigration if she wants to stay on.

The office of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino said in response to queries that Canada has taken a number of steps to limit the challenges facing immigrants and newcomers.

Alexander Cohen, Mendocino’s press secretary, said those steps include extending the deadline for migrants to update lapsed permits until the end of the year (and allowing them to work while those applications are processed), creating a process for workers who need to change jobs quickly, and allowing visitors to apply for a work permit without leaving the country or providing biometrics.

But Cohen did not say whether the government plans to allow the renewal of one-time PGWPs, or if it would reduce the number of hours or ease other restrictions, either temporarily or permanently, to help bridge that post-grad gap to permanent residency.

Cohen referred a question about lowering tuition rates to provinces, who are responsible for education and said the federal government was “exploring more ways to adapt to the current situation and create the flexibility to respond.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 12:59 p.m. Eastern time on Oct. 27, 2020 to include a response from the immigration minister’s office.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council squashes mask bylaw

The bylaw did not make it past first reading, after a 4-3 vote defeated the motion

Sylvan Lake RCMP are looking for the identity of the suspect who stole from over 40 resident mail boxes. (Photo Courtesy of Sylvan Lake RCMP)
Over 40 mailboxes broken into at Sylvan Lake apartment building

Sylvan Lake RCMP are investigating the incident and searching for the identity of the suspect

File photo by Red Deer Advocate
Town Of Sylvan Lake temporarily lays-off 30 staff members

Thirty part-time staff members at the NexSource Centre have been laid off until January

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed eight additional virus-deaths Monday afternoon including one in central zone. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Central zone up to 1,249 active COVID-19 cases

Red Deer sits at 257 active COVID-19 cases

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

A teacher places the finishing touches on the welcome sign at Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School which is part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Sept. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Hindsight 2020: How do you preserve a year many Canadians would rather forget?

Figuring out how to preserve the story of the pandemic poses a series of challenges

Team Manitoba celebrate after defeating Team Ontario to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask., Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. Curling Canada wants Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park to be a curling hub for the season’s top events. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calgary facility set to become curling hub during pandemic

Curling Canada has provisional approval for Calgary’s hub-city concept from Alberta Health

Ash and Lisa Van carry a freshly cut Christmas tree while wearing personal protective masks at a Christmas Tree Farm in Egbert, Ontario, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Cole Burston
‘Everyone wants a tree and they want it now’: Christmas tree sales on pace for record

Anticipated demand for Christmas trees has sparked a rush by some to purchase more trees wholesale

A scene from last year’s Light the Night fundraiser at the Stettler Town and Country Museum. This year’s rendition is on a drive-through basis only, but it still promises to be a not-to-be-missed seasonal highlight. (Independent file photo)
Stettler Town and Country Museum hosts ‘Light the Night’

This year’s rendition is drive-through only, but will still prove to be a dazzling display

(Black Press File Photo)
Rimbey woman gathering Christmas gifts for seniors at Valleyview Manor

Margaret Tanasiuk says she doesn’t want anyone to feel forgotten on Christmas morning

Most Read