Migrant advocates call on feds to expand EI, CPP to foreign workers

Migrant advocates call on feds to expand EI, CPP to foreign workers

Migrant worker advocates say the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for the federal government to create a new mechanism for foreign workers to access critical benefits like employment insurance (EI).

Debbie Douglas, executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, told the House human resources committee on Monday that the government must find a way to ensure that temporary foreign workers (TFWs) can access the benefits they’re already paying into, such as the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) and EI  benefits.

READ MORE: Feds provide $50 million to help temporary foreign workers self-isolate

“What [TFWs] want is access to those benefits when they need them, whether or not they get sick and or there is a shortage of jobs, including if they have to return to their country,” she told MPs as part of their study on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on migrant workers and those living in Canada with precarious immigration status.

The meeting comes just days after a third Mexican migrant worker died from COVID-19 in Ontario.

Despite paying into EI programs, migrant farm workers have never been eligible for full EI benefits because they are seasonal. However, they did access to EI’s special parental, maternal and compassionate benefits up until December 2012 when Stephen Harper’s Conservative government eliminated the benefit.

In April, the government announced that employers must pay TFWs during their 14-day self isolation period, and pledged $1,500 for each temporary foreign worker for eligible employers. As well, the feds  committed to providing these workers with access to EI benefits and other income supports if they become ill, laid-off, or have to quarantine due to COVID-19.

Syed Hussan, the executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, said many migrant workers were forced to risk their lives and come to Canada or be without income, as CERB and EI were not available to these workers, even though many work and pay taxes in Canada year after year. The result, he said, has been the death of three migrant workers so far, including Mexican migrant worker Juan López Chaparro who died from COVID-19 in Norfolk County in Southern Ontario on Saturday.

His death was preceded by the passing of Mexican farm worker Bonifacio Eugenio Romero, 31, in May. He was the first migrant worker to die from COVID-19. A week later, 24-year-old Rogelio Muñoz Santos also died after contracting the virus. Both migrant workers were employed on farms in Ontario’s Windsor-Essex County.

Hussan said the three men are just one example of the “series of injustices” occurring across Canada as migrants in the country don’t have access to CERB, healthcare, or jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

At his daily press briefing Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said anyone who works in Canada must be able to do so in a safe environment, saying that has not been the case for many migrant workers. He said the workers are an important part of Canada’s food supply chain, and that their protection must be guaranteed.

READ MORE: StatsCan report on rising numbers of TFWs in AG sector suggests labour shortage, experts say

“I think it’s obvious that we need to do a better job of ensuring that rules are followed for temporary foreign workers in Canada,” he said.

Hussan said increased inspections of conditions on farms will not solve the problem, saying that farmers are following the laws, but workers are still being given inadequate housing, and face reprisal and not being brought back the next year if they complain. As well, he noted that some farmers are not providing enough food for workers during their 14 day self-isolation period, while workers can’t gain access to groceries in their own,

Hussan said the solution is to create a single-tier immigration system which offers full immigrations status for everyone who comes to Canada.

“We need a single-step solution,” he said.

This would solve the “technical issues” of programs like CPP being deposited into Canadian bank account, and therefore not being accessible to migrant workers in Mexico, as well as issues like workers not having access to healthcare.

Douglas said her sense that migrant workers don’t mind paying taxes but want access to the benefits when they need it, such as if they’re sick or if there’s a shortage of jobs. But, she agreed with Hussan that workers coming to Canada should be given the option, noting that some workers want to stay, while others want to return to their home country.

Douglas also said the federal government could pull from existing undocumented citizens, migrant workers, refugees claimants, international students to help meet immigration targets already set for 2020 and 2021, noting that they will likely not be met because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ MORE: Migrant workers pause applies to just handful of Ontario farms, industry says

A recent report from Statistics Canada found there were 550,000 temporary workers (temporary residents who received a T4 slip during the year) in Canada in 2017, accounting for 15.5 per cent of employees in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting fields. The report also said foreign workers made up 41.6 per cent of agricultural workers in Ontario, and over 30 per cent of agricultural workers in Quebec, British Columbia and Nova Scotia in 2017.

Migrant Workers Advocates Call for Government Action Against Human Trafficking

Migrant Workers Advocates Call for Government Action Against Human Trafficking


Lack of government inspection on recruiters’ operations, closed contracts to a specific employer, and insufficient information for temporary workers create the conditions for labour abuse and human trafficking in Canada.

Migrant workers’ advocates are calling on the federal government to adopt a holistic approach to address human trafficking that encompasses prevention, social protections, accountability, and labour mobility.

Migrant groups said existing government programs and policies fail to protect some migrant workers who are most susceptible to labour trafficking.

“The current pandemic crisis only amplifies their precarity,” said the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), Sisters of St. Joseph (London, Ont.), Migrant Workers Centre (Vancouver, B.C.), FCJ Refugee Centre (Toronto, Ont.), and Mouvement contre le viol et l’inceste (Montreal, Que.) in a media advisory released prior to public education event on June 10.

Some of the conditions that facilitate the abuse of migrant workers includes: lack of government inspection on recruiters’ operations, work contracts specific to one employer, and insufficient information provided to temporary workers.

Precarious work leads to exploitation

A young Filipino woman named only ‘Maria’ spoke at the event and shared the harrowing experience that brought her to Canada.

In 2017, she arrived with an employer-family on the false promise of a two-month vacation in Vancouver. A week later, Maria’s employers informed her that they will be staying permanently in Canada and confiscated her passport.

“I worked as a live-in caregiver for more than 12 hours per day, six days a week,” said Maria.

“They paid me $600 a month. I didn’t know I was a victim of human trafficking. I was afraid to lose my job because I am the only support of my family. I suffered emotional and physical abuse from my employer. I was traumatized until the Migrant Workers Centre found a place for me.”

Natalie Drolet, executive director and staff lawyer at the Migrant Workers Centre, pointed to the need for “consistency” to support migrant workers. In Maria’s case, her application for a  temporary residence permit (TRP) was refused, and the appeal to the Federal Court of Canada took a year and a half until it was finally granted, she explained.

Rico Angustia, 47, is another migrant worker from the Philippines, who came to Canada in 2012.

“I was recruited by a Canadian agency that promised me a job and permanent residence. I paid $4,000 to a lawyer to complete my application. I don’t have a work permit. I have been living and working precariously because of my immigration status.”

Angustia tried to find a job through a temporary employment agency in Toronto that “took advantage of my situation by taking an illegal deduction from my salary for two years. I knew through the news that my employer was charged with human trafficking. I have spent in total $42,000 trying to fix my situation in Canada during the last eight years.”

He has been a client of the FCJ Refugee Centre for one year. He is currently an undocumented worker but has applied for permanent residence based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds with the help of FCJ.

Angustia’s is a clear case of exploitation, deception and coercion, said Luis Alberto Mata, project co-ordinator of the Anti–Human Trafficking Project of FCJ.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, Angustia’s situation became worse. Due to his precarious migration status, he can’t apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB),” said Mata of FCJ Refugee Centre.

To be eligible for CERB, the federal government’s economic relief program to combat the effects of COVID-19, applicants must be residents of Canada and have stopped working due to the pandemic – or are eligible for Employment Insurance or sickness benefits.

The advocacy organizations urged the federal government to set human rights and social justice at the centre of immigration policies and programs that currently make people vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.

Canada should offer temporary residence permits

In their calls of action, the coalition have demanded the government make the TPR accessible to trafficked persons in a way that reflects how people are coerced and exploited in Canada.

“This grounded understanding of international trafficking in Canada needs to be consistently applied across all provinces,” said Shelley Gilbert, co-chair of the CCR Anti-Trafficking Committee.

They suggest the government collaborate with front-line workers who have an expert understanding of how recruitment, deception, fraud, coercion are means to exploit people in Canada.

Gilbert, who also serves co-coordinator of Social Work Services of Legal Assistance for the City of Windsor, detailed the advocacy priorities that include: recognize and address systemic inequalities that are the causes and consequences of trafficking; protect the rights of trafficked persons and those at risk; implement legislative changes to ensure there is a permanent pathway to protection; and access to justice and services.

The CCR Anti-Trafficking Committee´s ongoing campaign Protecting Trafficked Persons in Canada with the hashtag ‘#BecauseIamHuman’ seeks to create awareness of labour exploitation and to encourage protection and justice for trafficked persons.


As coronavirus wreaks havoc, these precarious workers have ‘no one to turn to’

Construction worker Cesar Paredes, whose wife is due with their first child on May 29, was told by his foreman last Friday that there’s no job for him and 10 other crew members as construction work slowed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Unlike his Canadian colleagues, the undocumented worker from Mexico is not eligible for employment insurance or any provincial or financial aid for those who have lost their jobs due to the crisis.

Paredes’ only social safety net is his physical labour — and some savings, which he says have been depleted after he paid thousands of dollars to an immigration consultant for a promised work permit that was never delivered.

“Half of the guys on our crew are like me, from Latin America, with no status in Canada. We have looked for other jobs, but there are no jobs out there,” said the 31-year-old Toronto man, who worked as an engineer in the oil and gas industry before coming here in 2018 as a tourist.

“I have $300 left. We have no money for rent. I don’t know how long the money will last. At least my Canadian colleagues can still keep afloat. I have nothing but an unknown future.”

Over the last two weeks, Toronto’s FCJ Refugee Centre has been fielding calls from people with precarious immigration status, who have been let go from their jobs and are in need of food and shelter.

“I had three calls today alone from people who had no food in their fridge and were facing eviction from their apartment next month,” said Francisco Rico-Martinez, the centre’s co-director.

“Migrant workers, non-status people, international students and temporary residents are the most vulnerable because there’s a lack of language and understanding of the system, and they have no idea of what resources are out there for them, if any.”

His group is one of more than three dozen community organizations in Ontario that are urging all levels of governments to extend their COVID-19 income support and essential services to all residents, regardless of immigration status.

Since March 16, more than a million Canadians have applied for employment insurance as the pandemic ravages Canada’s economy.

The federal government has rolled out the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, among other measures, to provide $2,000 a month for up to four months for workers who lose income as a result of the pandemic.

However, the government assistance is designed for Canadian citizens and permanent residents, and won’t be available to most of those in the country with temporary status, said Avvy Go, director of the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic in Toronto.


Migrants In Ontario Aren’t Getting The Free Health Care They Were Promised

New immigrants and undocumented workers are still being asked to cover their own health-care costs despite the Ontario government’s promise that this wouldn’t happen during the COVID-19 pandemic, advocates say.

“This is unfair because these are people who have been working and sustaining the economy,” said Loly Rico, the co-director of FCJ Refugee Centre in Toronto.

“It’s a very high number of people that live in Toronto and need health coverage.”

FCJ Refugee Centre normally operates a health clinic for uninsured people, which saw about 15 patients a week and had a one-month waiting list before it closed because of the pandemic. After Ontario sent a directive telling hospitals to serve all patients, regardless of their insurance coverage, the centre’s health-care staff started sending patients to hospitals.




Thank you for building a borderless humanity… by supporting one refugee or migrant at a time

For decades, we as a community have gathered around our own kitchen table. To share coffee in the morning, to share lunch, have meetings, celebrations, birthdays, conversations and build connections. We’ve worked to support people as they build new homes around kitchen tables in their new lives here. But that process has been incredibly difficult in recent months, and this crisis has magnified those challenges for so many.

For too many people, the kitchen table where families want to gather to break bread and share a meal has become a reminder of the food security they don’t have access to.

With the initiative, ‘From Our Kitchen Table to Yours’ we have provided food security measures to 30 homes already just in the last week. In the coming days, due to the recent increase in your generous donations, we now have the capacity to reach another 40 families.


Your donation is making an immeasurable difference in the lives of precarious migrants (families, youth, adults and seniors) – all of the people who make up our enriched community. So this is a brief message of thanks to you.


Thank you for grace and solidarity.

Thank you for acknowledging a population so often isolated, marginalized and forgotten.

Thank you for walking with us…and for walking together with uprooted people.

Thank you for building a borderless humanity…by supporting one refugee or migrant at a time.

Thanks, just thanks.


As part of our COVID-19 response we are looking for support for women at our shelter, youth and other precarious migrants that do not have access to the emergency benefits and measures during the present health crisis. Residents of our houses, youth and clients have been laid off and need a lot of help.
You are welcome to support with GROCERY GIFT CARDS, BASKET WITH PERSONAL CARE KITS, or visit our website and make your donation through Canada Help. https://www.fcjrefugeecentre.org/get-involved/donate/


You can read about the situation they are facing in the following article: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2020/04/01/as-coronavirus-wreaks-havoc-these-precarious-workers-have-no-one-to-turn-to.html

Also you can find other initiatives we are implementing: an Open Letter signed by community organizations and groups in Ontario in solidarity with precarious migrants and their families.



In unique times like this, Canadians must come together and not leave anyone behind.

Thank you in advance for your support, walking together with uprooted people and in solidarity

FCJ Refugee Centre Community

Services and Resources during the present health crisis

We care about your health and wellbeing and want to make sure you are informed. Please find useful information in our resource booklet HOW TO… FIND HELP 

This is a toolkit with information about how to find support during the crisis of the COVID-19.

The document provides helpful resources. Keep in mind that most of the information is focused in Toronto and it might change depending on the situation of the health emergency.

(Immigration and settlement support) 

-How COVID-19 is impacting immigration and refugee procedures
-Exemptions & travel restrictions
-How to make a refugee claim inland under COVID 19 instructions
-Processing times and extensions
-Health support
-Access to foodbanks
-Shelter in Toronto
-What to do in domestic violence situations
-Access to Ontario Works


More than 30 community organizations and groups in Ontario endorsed an Open Letter in Solidarity with Migrant Workers, Non-Status individuals and their families as community workers, organizers, volunteers, teachers, students and residents of Ontario, Canada.

The letter is in Solidarity with Migrant Workers, Non-Status individuals and their families as community workers, organizers, volunteers, teachers, students and residents of Ontario, Canada.

In unique times like this, Canadians must come together and not leave anyone behind.
Walking together with uprooted people and in solidarity:

To read the letter click here

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