(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.

Just Posted

Protestors blocking Columbia Avenue Saturday evening. Photo: Betsy Kline
Old growth protesters begin 24-hour blockade of Castlegar’s main street

Members of Extinction Rebellion plan to stay overnight

Forty sled dogs were seized by the BC SPCA from a Salmo kennel in February. A recent ruling has decided the dogs won’t be returned. Photo: Gounsil/Flickr
BC Farm Industry Review Board rules against Salmo kennel after 40 sled dogs seized

Spirit of the North Kennels was also ordered to pay BC SPCA $64,000

Grand Forks musician Nathan Vogel (right) plays the Market Avenue piano installed by the Boundary Street Pianos Project on May 10. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Boundary music project hoping for funds for street pianos

Coun. Christine Thompson said she’d ask council to fund the initiative if asked by the Downtown Business Association

Residents line up outside the Vernon Recreation Complex for their COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, June 5. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
No appointments necessary for first dose COVID-19 vaccine: Interior Health

People can just show up at clinics, register on the spot and get the shot

Grand Forks’ Brook Thate (left) was given a drive-by parade to mark her graduation from the University of Calgary at her parents’ home Thursday, June 10. Seated in her car is Grand Forks’ Sandra Dorgelo. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks family holds COVID-safe parade for daughter’s university grad

Thursday’s celebration was a small, socially-distanced version of the celebration university grads might’ve had in normal times

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

Most Read