(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

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

Kimberley residents were treated to the first Farmers' Market of the season, and the feeling of a return to normalcy. Paul Rodgers photos.
WATCH: Kimberley’s first Farmers’ Market of the season

Kimberley residents enjoyed the first Farmers’ Market of the year on Thursday,… Continue reading

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

Students at Creston Valley Secondary School put together an art installation of a replica residential school room. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Creston students create art installation of residential school room

The replica was decorated with a small bed, school uniform, and notes written with pleas for help

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Patrick O’Brien, a 75-year-old fisherman, went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search for lost fisherman near Victoria suspended, U.S. Coast Guard says

The 75-year-old man was reported missing Thursday evening

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

New research suggests wolves can be steered away from the endangered caribou herds they prey on by making the man-made trails they use to hunt harder to move along. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Culling cutlines, not B.C. wolves, key to preserving caribou herds: researcher

The government has turned to killing hundreds of wolves in an effort to keep caribou around

Gary Abbott (left) and Louis De Jaeger were two of the organizers for the 2014 Spirit of the People Powwow in Chilliwack. Monday, June 21, 2021 is Indigenous Peoples Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 20 to 26

Indigenous Peoples Day, Take Your Dog to Work Day, Onion Rings Day all coming up this week

Gwen Spencer Hethey with her uncle and mentor Major Frederick Richardson. (Courtesy of Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame)
‘She was a killer’: The B.C. woman who pioneered female sharpshooting

Gwen Spencer Hethey made military men ‘look like turkeys’ says her son

Most Read