Canada – Temporary immigration pathway for essential workers and graduates excludes too many, critics say

Migrant Rights Network says restrictive criteria mean new policy will benefit only a small number of people

A group that advocates for the rights of migrants is pushing for changes to a recently announced short-term immigration program, calling it unfair and exclusionary.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced last month a new immigration pathway that will allow up to 90,000 essential workers and international graduates already in Canada to convert their temporary status to permanent status. 

The program — which will begin accepting applications on Thursday — is a rare opportunity for low-wage, low-skilled workers to obtain permanent residency and, eventually, Canadian citizenship through an immigration system that normally prioritizes highly skilled workers.

But the Migrant Rights Network says a huge number of workers, students and recent graduates with temporary or no documented immigration status don’t meet the application requirements. The group says those who do qualify are scrambling to obtain the necessary language test results and other required documents as they compete for a limited number of first-come, first-served spots. 

“Any belief that the program would finally ensure rights, protection and dignity, even for workers in low-waged work, has been short-lived,” the group wrote in a report released today. 

“Refugees, undocumented people and hundreds of thousands of other migrants have realized that the program exclusions and requirements shut them out.”

That criticism targets an initiative the Liberal government hopes will help it accept 401,000 new permanent residents — after a year when travel restrictions and a processing backlog caused by the pandemic slowed immigration significantly.

Canada welcomed 184,624 immigrants in 2020 — the lowest number for any year since 1998, according to Statistics Canada. The pre-pandemic target set by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) for 2020 was 341,000 new immigrants.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Mendicino said the new pathway is one of the most inclusive and innovative programs ever launched by IRCC.

“From bricklayers to bus drivers to custodians, the range of eligible occupations has never been more inclusive,” Alexander Cohen said in an emailed statement.

“Likewise, recent international student graduates will have a pathway to permanent residency as long they have graduated within the last four years and are currently employed.”

Survey of migrants

When the program was announced, the Migrant Rights Network created an online tool to help migrants find out whether they qualified for the program. The tool also allowed them to share information about their personal immigration situations.

The group says over 3,000 migrants filled out the survey and it analyzed some of those results in its report, which is not scientific or nationally representative.

Many reported they don’t meet the qualification requirements for one of the following reasons: they’re undocumented because they overstayed a temporary visa or their work permit lapsed, they’re a refugee claimant, they’re an international student who hasn’t graduated yet, or they’re a temporary resident in Quebec. (The government of Quebec chose not to participate in the new program, so applicants must intend to live outside Quebec to qualify).

Others don’t qualify because they have medical issues or past criminal convictions, or because they don’t have valid eligible language test results proving they are proficient in English.

“The federal government has created a short-term program for a few that excludes many,” Syed Hussan, executive director of Migrant Rights Network, told a press conference today. “What we need is permanent status for all.”

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