We are releasing a rapid-report today with a snapshot of 3,000 of our migrant members who filled out our survey over the last two week about the new short-term immigration pilot program announced on April 14th. Our report reveals that 1.18 million undocumented residents, refugees, students and migrants in Quebec are not allowed to apply. In addition, 45.4% of migrant workers and 34.5% of international graduates that filled out the survey are also excluded from the new program. An additional 48.27% of international graduates and 45.4% of migrant workers do not have the language test results required to apply for this first-come, first-served program.
This is unfair and unjust. We are calling on Prime Minister Trudeau to ensure permanent resident status for all migrant and undocumented people in the country, and ensure that all working class migrants that arrive in the future do so with permanent resident status. The current program must be expanded to include everyone without permanent status; all caps and the 6-month window must be removed; residents of Quebec must be allowed to apply; and requirements for an English language test, educational credentials, current employment, and valid immigration status must be removed. Any other inadmissibility requirements must also be removed, and the application fees waived for low-wage workers.
In addition to the exclusions in the program itself, the announcement has created a wave of chaos and confusion over migrant and undocumented communities across the country that is being exploited by bad actors.
(1) Language testing centres and agents profiting: There are only two accepted English testing programs migrants can use in Canada, IELTS and CELPIP. Within hours of the announcement on April 14, both their websites crashed as a result of the large numbers of people trying to register for tests. It took almost a week for the websites to come back online, and in many cases, there are no open spots for months. In Calgary, for example, the next open IELTS test is August 7th. Those migrants who are constrained by their employers and unable to leave employer-provided housing, particularly farmworkers and care workers, cannot go to testing centres. Others are not allowed time off to study or to take the test. Testing centres are only available in major cities, and travel from rural communities during COVID-19 is either dangerous or simply impossible because of lockdown measures. Doing tests online is difficult for many because of lack of reliable internet access or computers. Cumulatively, this has meant that migrants are struggling to register for tests. Others are paying the high fees anyway even though they don’t meet other requirements. This is a boon for IELTS and CELPIP language centres. Many bad actors are offering fake exams and test-prep tools or promising to secure a test date at exorbitant prices. Many migrants, particularly Spanish-speaking farmworkers, are struggling to learn the language and pass the test in the short window the program will be open.
(2) Bad employers taking advantage: One of the requirements of the program is to be currently employed. This means that migrants on any kind of leave from their current job, paid or unpaid, must return to work to qualify. This can include anyone on parental or caregiver leave, or taking unpaid sick time to quarantine for COVID-19. But racialized unemployment in Canada is high, particularly for migrants. For example, according to our Migrant Rights Network survey in November 2020, 1 in 3 migrant care workers were laid off during COVID-19. Because of the state of unemployment, many people are willing to accept any job and under any conditions, even work for far below minimum wage to be able to apply for this program. In some cases, bad actors are promising job letters in return for high fees. Migrant workers on tied work permits are only allowed to work for the employers listed on their permits. Workers who were forced to leave bad jobs are now being faced with the impossible choice to return to those same bad employers. Migrants who are self-employed or are gig workers are quitting those jobs for others that pay less or not at all, just to fulfill program requirements. Many workers have already reported employers taking advantage of this PR program to further exploit workers.
(3) Travelling no matter the cost: Canada has closed its borders to many migrants. Flights are also suspended from Mexico, Caribbean countries, India and Pakistan. Migrants must be in Canada to apply. As a result, many are buying expensive last minute tickets, transiting through multiple countries, with greater risk of COVID to get around flight restrictions simply to make it back in time to apply. Many recruiters, agents and unscrupulous immigration consultants are promising “special letters”, at very high prices, that migrants can show at the airport to be allowed in, most of which are fake.
(4) Lack of information: Since the initial announcement on April 14th, the federal government has not provided any further information about the details of the application or the documents required. Hundreds of thousands have had questions that have not been answered, and it has fallen to migrant-led organizations like ours to fill the gap. Meanwhile, unscrupulous recruiters, agents, immigration consultants and lawyers are spreading misinformation and promising miracles for high fees. Those particularly being targeted are undocumented people, refugees and low-wage workers, including those without access to internet, or high levels of English and French literacy.
(5) High fees: While details of fees have not been announced, a permanent resident application costs $1,135 per application, and $1,945.00 for a 2 parent, 2 children family. Immigration consultants on average are advertising $4,000 to do applications, with some asking for much more. Getting documents from overseas or renewing them also costs money. Migrants will also have to pay for medical tests for all members of the family, if they are invited to do so. These are substantial fees for migrants working in low-waged jobs or for minimum wage – in some cases more than what many earn in a month. Many low-wage workers simply don’t have thousands of dollars saved, and the first come, first-served means those with money will be able to apply beore low-wage workers. Some workers, specifically care workers, who have already submitted applications through the Care Worker Pilot program but have been waiting over a year or two for an answer are now being encouraged to apply through this stream, paying fees twice in the hopes of getting PR faster.
(6) COVID-19 barriers to getting documentation: Immigration applications require extensive documentation, including police clearances, educational transcripts, valid passports, etc. With COVID-19 continuing to ravage countries in the Global South in particular, getting such documents is incredibly difficult. This particular program requires that migrants must have all documents assembled to apply with at the same time. Applicants from richer countries (Europe, USA, etc.) where government bureaucracies continue to function and embassies remain open have a significant advantage.