By TOM GODFREY
“One of the largest deportations in Canadian history” is being predicted by migrant worker groups as a new immigration policy targeting caregivers and some foreign workers take effect next month.
Groups from Toronto joined others from across Canada to protest the “mass deportations” of thousands of caregivers who they claim, under a new regulation, will have to leave the country after four years of working here.
Activists say changes to Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations starting April 1 will affect those in the Temporary Foreign Worker and Live-in Caregiver programs.
They say the new regulations will affect workers who have been employed in Canada for periods totaling four years. They will now be denied continued status and forced to leave.
The change will also ban them from re-entering Canada as workers for four years.
Organizers of the protests estimate that more than 62,000 workers currently in Canada and many others entering the country, will be affected by the changes.
Protests have been taking place for the last month in Hamilton, Guelph, Edmonton and Surrey, B.C.
Several hundred protesters were expected to show up last week outside the Toronto office of Finance Minister Joe Oliver to vent their opposition to the move.
The protesters said they were there to stop the “mass deportations of the caregivers”.
Members of Toronto’s Migrant Workers Alliance, said tens of thousands of caregivers will lose their jobs and “this is one of the largest deportations in Canadian history”.
Alliance spokesman, Syed Hussan, said the workers should be granted permanent residence and not forced to cut their ties with family, friends and their community.
“These changes are effectively a mass deportation,” said Hussan. “These rules will tear apart families, friends and communities across the country.”
Organizers said those targeted include the most vulnerable caregivers, who are nearly all women with families at home.
The groups are seeking a moratorium on the regulations so workers can continue to work. They are also demanding permanent resident status for workers already in Canada.
“Migrant workers should receive access to all social benefits and entitlements and legislation be enacted providing permanent residency for all migrants upon arrival,” the Alliance said on its website.
“Popular myths that migrant workers are stealing jobs and driving down wages of Canadian workers are untrue,” the group said. “The problem is with provincial laws that allow us to be paid less, and deny us real protection to ask for our rights.”
Federal Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has vowed to reduce caregiver abuse and clear up a backlog of an estimated 60,000 cases of workers waiting for as long as 10-years for permanent residency.
Alexander in the past has said the live-in requirement is like “modern-day slavery”.
Other changes to the program include the scrapping of the live-in requirement and splitting the stream in two; one for child-care workers and another for those in the health care field.
A total of 5,500 applications for both categories annually will be accepted that officials are hoping to process within six months.
Meanwhile, more than 1,200 people have signed an online petition calling for the deportations to be halted.
The petition called for parties to work together to ensure no one is paid less than they need to live, and everyone can demand and win their rights.
Groups representing caregivers are also upset that Alexander did not grant foreign caregivers permanent residency from the moment they arrive in Canada.
Under the new program, caregivers still have to wait two years before being eligible for permanent residency.
They are also calling on Ottawa to allow family members of caregivers to come to Canada right away.