Migrant Rights Network calls for regularization of undocumented

By Lincoln DePradine

Sarom Rho

It’s almost two years since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised a regularization program that could help some of the estimated 1.7 million people in Canada on temporary study or work permits, or who otherwise are classified as “undocumented’’.

Migrant-supporting organizations, as well as representatives from hundreds of other groups across Canada, say the prime minister has not kept his promise, and they are reiterating a call for the federal government to expand the regularization immigration program and extend “status for all’’.

“We are going to continue to push and call on Prime Minister Trudeau to create an unpacked regularization program that grants permanent resident status for all – and that includes undocumented people, migrant workers and students. We’re also calling on immigration minister Marc Miller to quickly ensure that everybody in this country is treated the same and has the same rights and protections,’’ Sarom Rho, an organizer with Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (WMAC), told The Caribbean Camera.

Rho made the comment following street protests, dubbed “Migrant Rights Network Actions’’, that were held last Sunday in nine provinces and 16 cities including Toronto, Hamilton, Kingston, London, St Catharines, Sudbury and Ottawa in Ontario.

Migrant Rights Network is said to be Canada’s largest migrant-led coalition.

Justin Trudeau

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada launched a so-called “innovative pathway’’ program, with certain eligibility criteria, that accepted permanent resident (PR) applications in three streams: 20,000 for temporary workers in healthcare; 30,000 for temporary workers in “other selected essential occupations’’; and 40,000 for international students who graduated from a Canadian institution.

The feds later unveiled a “guardian angels’’ component of the program. It provided for asylum seekers, who have been working in a specific list of healthcare-related professions and who had already claimed asylum before March 13, 2020, to apply for permanent residency.

However, “guardian angels’’ limited eligibility for permanent residency only to those providing direct patient care in hospitals and long-term care homes.

Prime Minister Trudeau, in December 2021, promised regularization for undocumented people and permanent resident status for migrant students and workers; but, no program has been implemented yet. 

With protests and petitions, Migrant Rights Network, WMAC and other organizations have been demanding a program of “equality and fairness’’ in which all migrants –including undocumented people, migrant workers, students, refugees and families – are given permanent resident status.

Sunday’s protests, including marches through the intersection of Yonge and Dundas Streets in Toronto, occurred on the eve of the resumption of sittings of the House of Commons in Ottawa.

They also came on the heels of a report from United Nations special rapporteur Tomoya Obokata, who called Canada’s temporary foreign worker program a “breeding ground for contemporary forms of slavery’’.

Obokata urged the federal government to give all temporary foreign workers a pathway to longer term or permanent residency.

Advocates for a regularization program, which grants status to all, say that among the benefits of such an initiative will be an additional $1.1 billion to the public purse annually, through contributions by employers who currently don’t pay taxes.

They argue that it will also allow migrants to put down deeper roots, participate more fully in society, and gain labour mobility to fill jobs in industries and regions where workers are needed.

 “There was no question about what people on the streets wanted, not just in Toronto, but also in the 15 other cities across the country. All were coming together to demand Prime Minister Trudeau do the right thing, which is, to keep the promise he made 20 months ago,’’ Rho said.

“Every day of delay has meant more exploitation, more denial of life-saving healthcare, fear of deportations and the pain of family separation. It was clear from this weekend that people all across Canada want the prime minister to ensure fairness for all of us.’’