By Lincoln DePradine
Activists and supporters of undocumented migrant workers and international students attending Canadian colleges and universities are continuing to lobby the federal government for additional changes, despite recent concessions affecting students who seek employment while also at school.
Minister of immigration, Sean Fraser, in a statement last Friday, announced a temporary removal of conditions under which international students can work.
It’s estimated that the change, which takes effect from November 15 and runs until the end of 2023, will affect more than 500,000 current international students who are in Canada, or have already applied for a study permit. With the change, they will be allowed to work off-campus, providing an opportunity for more job hours and higher earnings.
Officials at Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC) referred to the change as a “partial success’’ that gives international students “the power to protect themselves from exploitation, abuse and mistreatment at work’’.
MWAC wants “permanent changes, rather than temporary and partial programs,’’ said Sarom Rho, organizer for Migrant Students United at the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
“Removing the limit on hours of work while studying gives migrant student workers the power to leave bad jobs, speak up against exploitation and mistreatment, and freedom and flexibility to make decisions about their work,” she said.
“It’s a step in the right direction but much more needs to be done for migrant student workers, particularly those who have been excluded. This change must be made permanent. The post-graduate work permit scheme, which students enter into upon graduation, must be transformed. And, most importantly, all migrants including migrant students, must have permanent residency so they can protect themselves.”
MWAC will be pressing its demand for permanent change on Sunday, October 16, when it joins other groups – including the Health for All Network – in a day of action outside the offices of federal cabinet ministers across Canada.
Earlier this week, Health for All Network released an open letter calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fulfill a promise to create a regularization plan, which would provide permanent residence to undocumented and temporary immigrants.
The letter is signed by organizations such as Canadian Doctors for Medicare, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, National Union of Public and General Employees, as well as the Manitoba, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and British Columbia Health Coalitions.
It urges Prime Minister Trudeau to “consider the negative health impacts of precarious immigration status and ensure that no one is left behind. Ensuring equal rights and access for all migrants is critical for closing systemic gaps in health inequities’’.
According to Ontario family physician, Dr. Vanessa Redditt, one of the letter’s signatories, “without secure immigration status, many migrants are denied basic rights and essential services, with extremely damaging impacts on their health and well-being. We need to see immediate action from the federal government to fulfill their promise to ensure permanent residency for the 1.7 million migrants living and working in Canada with precarious, temporary, or no immigration status’’.
MWAC member Akinwumi Yemi, a Nigeria-born undocumented immigrant, complains about his inability to access “quality medical care’’, although he’s been working in the long-term care department of a public hospital since 2018.
“I have been committed and dedicated since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, taking care of the elderly in Canada and putting the lives of my own family and loved ones at risk. I have no access to good and quality medical care and other opportunities because I am an undocumented immigrant. All we are asking for is equal rights and permanent residence for all without exception,’’ Yemi said.
Although “all levels of government have responsibilities for the health, safety, and security of migrants, the federal government’s role in determining immigration status is critical, including through accords it has with individual provinces,’’ the Health for All Network’s letter says.
The letter’s signatories are also calling on provinces to provide healthcare for everyone, irrespective of immigration status.