Fast tracking work permits could ease refugee shelter crisis

African refugees

Now that the Federal government is addressing refugee housing in Toronto, it is plain that if asylum seekers are able to take care of themselves we would have gone a long way in solving the problem. That means that there should be no delay in giving them to get permission to work in Canada. Work permits should be granted without delay.

Refugee service agencies say that it takes sometimes to more than a year for work permits to be granted.

The agencies say a speeded up process would allow refugees to find their own living spaces and take care of their families, thereby reducing the demand for shelter space.

“The federal government could make a policy decision to expedite review of these work permits so those folks can enter into the labour market and start on the path to building a really good life in Canada and taking care of themselves,” said Surranna Sandy, chief executive officer of Skills For Change, a Toronto-based agency that provides employment and settlement services to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Ukrainians get VIP greeting

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow and Ontario Premier Doug Ford are joining the call to expedite work permits.

“One of the best ways to support refugees and asylum seekers for the long-term is by helping them find meaningful employment,” Ford and Chow said in a joint statement this week.

“We are urging the federal government to immediately dispatch dedicated resources on the ground to help refugees and asylum seekers complete paperwork and process their applications so that people arriving can begin to find good work in weeks rather than the years it can currently take.”

According to Sandy, ‚ÄúThere’s an eagerness to work, to take care of themselves, to contribute. They just need a pathway, an expedited pathway to be able to do that,” Sandy said in an interview.


The process of getting the right to work is a long and cumbersome process. Apart from the obvious health checks and fingerprinting, the screening of persons to merit referral to the Immigration and Refugee Board for a legal decision on granting refugee status can take a very long time.

Citing a renewed surge in refugee claims and critical delays in processing, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser brought in a new temporary policy last November to streamline work permit approvals for asylum seekers.

In the first five months after the online portal was launched last September, Canada granted more than 20,000 work permits to asylum claimants (12,000 of those in Quebec).

But Loly Rico, executive director of FCJ Refugee Centre in Toronto, says the shortest wait time she is seeing for asylum seekers to be issued work permits is still three to four months.

Both Rico and Sandy point out that Ukrainian refugees who arrived in Canada over the past year and a half did not face lengthy processing delays, but were given immediate access to services including the ability to work. Similarly, Syrian and Afghan refugees who were brought to Canada through government-sponsored resettlement programs had permission to work upon arrival.  

Right now Ontario says that there over 300,000 job vacancies that need to be filled, so they are calling for speedier work permits for refugee claimants.

Premier Doug Ford, in pressing for a quick resolution to removing the hundles that stand in the way of the work permit issue, said “You have to step up, and you have to give them working permits. Shelter’s number one, working permits are number two.”