Typically, April Fool’s pranks are cooked up the night before or the morning of the day itself. Rarely are they a decade in the making. Beginning today, April 1, however, Canadians and non-Canadians working in Canada alike will begin to experience the effects of misguided policies instigated by the government of Canada — the creation of undocumented immigrants to Canada.
I could point to a number of instances over the past decade in which the government botched their reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, but two stand out in particular.
In 2006, not long after the Conservatives took office, this small and rather unremarkable program, which had been around for decades and served limited purposes for skilled positions, was quickly expanded and under-regulated. Then in 2011, the ‘4-in, 4-out’ rule was brought in for temporary foreign workers who are not working in management or professional positions. This arbitrary regulation meant that after a temporary foreign worker has reached a four-year cumulative duration limit, he or she will not be granted another work permit in Canada for the next four years.
What this rule said, in effect, was that the work performed need not be temporary, only the people who perform it. It reduces human beings to mere commodities, not much more than machines to be counted first on the company inventory, then the payroll. But these are humans — people with emotions, ambitions, and hopes — not pieces of machinery.
And, while a fraction of temporary foreign workers in Alberta (those who had submitted an application for permanent residence through the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program) have been offered a temporary reprieve from the full effects of this regulation, transition to permanent resident status for the lion’s share of low-wage foreign workers remains theoretical and practically unattainable.
Many of those who arrived between 2006 and 2011, after the program’s expansion but before the ‘4-in, 4-out’ rule came into play, have children who have only ever attended schools in Canada. Some of these kids are even Canadian citizens. Are we really a country that effectively removes Canadian kids not just from school and the local community, but from the very country itself? In effect, that is what will happen.
There are no winners here. Canadians watch as wages stagnate. Businesses, particularly small- and medium-sized businesses, lose employees in whom they have invested time and training. Communities lose vital members of their societies — people active in local clubs, sports teams, community groups, and places of worship. Children, many of them born in Canada and therefore Canadian citizens, will leave the only country they have ever known because the government has told their parents that they are good enough to work in Canada, but not good enough to reside here permanently.
And finally, foreign workers, many of whom remain indebted to recruiters, are faced with an excruciating choice: stay in Canada and attempt to fly under the radar, in doing so entering a world of possible exploitation, uncertainty and illegality, or leave, in doing so potentially not just reducing their own standard of living, but also that of their family.
Let us be clear, Canada is an anomaly within the geopolitical world when it comes to undocumented migrants because it is an extremely difficult country to reach. Whereas countries such as the United States or Italy experience migrants seeking to gain entry over land from unstable countries in Central America and North Africa, Canada does not have to face that same scenario. In the case of the ‘4-in, 4-out’ rule in Canada, illegality only comes around when people stay beyond the initial four years, having entered and worked in Canada legally.
The vast majority of cases where people end up undocumented in Canada are due to ill-advised government policies. As Canadians possibly begin to vilify “illegal” immigrants in public discourse, we may forget that this government has played a starring role in converting once-hardworking, law-abiding workers into undocumented residents of Canada.
Since the middle of the twentieth century, when many of the world’s current borders and systems of government were established, every country that has run a mass guest worker program has been left in the situation where once-legal workers remain in the country after their legal work period has been completed. Why did this government think that Canada would be any different? The past decade has been the first time in our history where we have admitted more temporary than permanent newcomers, turning the Canadian tradition (not always upheld, I might add) of welcoming immigrants on its head.
At this stage, terminating the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in its entirety would be unwise and do nothing to resolve the issue of those who are already here, living lives in Canada, possibly with Canadian-born children. What happens next is anybody’s guess.