This blog was co-written by Patti Lenard (English) and Christine Straehle (French).
Quietly, the Canadian government is shifting its immigration priorities towards admitting thousands upon thousands of temporary labour migrants every year. More and more of these migrants are admitted under restrictive conditions: they cannot bring their families, they cannot change employers while they are in Canada, and they cannot apply for the right to stay in Canada permanently. In defending these conditions, the government tells us that these conditions are better than those that these migrants face elsewhere. Look at temporary labour migrants in Kuwait or in Singapore – in these countries, labour migrants are subject to much more restrictive conditions than they face in Canada, and these conditions lead to their abuse and exploitation at the hands of their often ruthless employers. One might think, and the Canadian government clearly does think, that any migrant would prefer to labour in Canada and the minimally restrictive conditions imposed on them here should be recognized as such.
In our newly published volume, Legislated Inequality, we argue against these conditions. What matters to migrant workers in Canada is not how much better they are treated here than in autocratic regimes; what matters is how they are treated in relation to those around them, i.e. Canadian citizens and permanent residents. The success of Canada’s immigration system is in its commitment to recognizing immigrants as equals. Historically, Canada’s attitude has been to acknowledge that immigrants contribute, upon arrival, to the Canadian economy and society, and therefore they are quickly entitled to the same package of rights Canadians possess, including citizenship itself. The government’s demonstrated willingness to impose restrictive conditions on a subset of migrants is a violation of Canada’s historical commitment to immigrants. As our volume title highlights, it legislates inequality for thousands of migrant labourers who are working to fill acute gaps in the Canadian labour market. If anything should entitle them to join us permanently, it is their essential contribution to the Canadian economy; as the government acknowledges, our economy needs these migrants to survive and to prosper.
Canada has been an immigration leader in the past – countries around the world looked to us to understand what successful immigration looks like. We have a chance to be a leader again in the domain of temporary labour migration. But, by expending so much effort to ensure that these temporary labour migrants remain temporary rather than considering how to smooth their transition to permanent status, we are squandering this valuable opportunity. Canadians should find this embarrassing.
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