By TOM GODFREY
More than 100 supporters of migrant workers planted seeds outside a Toronto immigration office to symbolize the hundreds of caregivers facing deportation who have roots in their communities.
Demonstrators from eight cities across Canada took to the streets last Sunday to stop a new policy that demands caregivers leave the country after four years in an attempt to clear a backlog of 60,000 cases.
The supporters, who are seeking permanent status for migrant workers, chanted and planted seeds outside a downtown building that houses a Citizenship and Immigration office.
The groups have been conducting regular protests to try and stop the caregivers from leaving Canada.
Liza Draman, of the Caregivers Action Centre, said many of the mostly women who are told to leave Canada after April 1 have been here for a long time and have formed friendships.
“They have families, friends and relationships,” said Draman. “Pulling them away from their communities is unjust, inhumane and arbitrary.”
About 70,000 low-wage workers in the Temporary Foreign Workers Program and Live-In Caregiver program are affected by the regulations, which bar the renewal of work permits past four years.
Syed Hussan, of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, said the laws regarding caregivers are outdated.
“It doesn’t serve anyone’s purpose to remove a trained workforce and replace them with new workers that are less aware of their rights,” Hussan told Share. “Why does growing roots in Canada and holding down a job for four years result in deportation?”
He said people working low-wage jobs in service, retail, caregiving, manufacturing and the agriculture sectors are not able to immigrate to Canada permanently under existing federal laws.
The groups said the Parliamentary Budget Officer has noted that the number of Canadian citizens in “low-skilled” jobs has dropped by 26 per cent between 2002 and 2013, highlighting the need for permanent immigrants in these sectors.
“These changes are part of a smoke-and-mirrors campaign by the Tories to distract from their dismal economic record and the massive rates of unemployment,” said Marco Luciano of Migrante Alberta. “We need full immigration status for migrant workers and a jobs and social entitlements strategy for everyone.”
He accused the Conservatives of “fear-mongering and just blaming migrants”.
“No matter what happens, we support migrant workers that may make the difficult decision to stay in Canada without status,” said Caitlin Craven of Sanctuary City Hamilton. “Many cities are passing Sanctuary City policies and we are urging the province to do the same to ensure that undocumented people have basic rights.”
Craven said “the tide is turning on Harper’s anti-immigrant agenda”.
Toronto and Hamilton are deemed Sanctuary Cities where undocumented migrants can access city services.
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has said that “significant reforms” are being made to the Caregiver Program to recognize contributions the women have made to Canadian families and the economy.
The program was split into two streams in which caregivers can apply for permanent resident status if they work as child care providers or in the health care sector as nurses, nursing aides or care providers.
Alexander said the changes will help reduce a backlog of 60,000 cases, with some caregivers waiting for as long 10 years for permanent residency or to be reunited with their families.
Officials said there will be a cap on applications of 2,750 each year in both categories, for a total of 5,500 caregivers and their families, who will be accepted in Canada.
Immigration officials said Canada will set an all-time record this year with 17,300 caregivers being admitted as permanent residents.
The Campaign Against the 4 Year Limit on Migrant Workers is made up of 19 organizations across Canada.