Temporary workers hurt by government delays
Foreign workers face deportation because of government red tape
When the Calgary auto dealership where Jose Osano was working as a car detailer supported his application for permanent residency through the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP) in August 2014, he was thrilled.
“I’m working for my family,’” said Osano, a temporary foreign worker who was so keen to earn as much as he could that he visited his children and wife only once, in 2011, after coming to Canada in 2008.
He used the money he earned in Canada to pay for his two daughters, aged 22 and 19, to attend university, and for his son, 10, to attend a private school in the Philippines. He also planned to build a house for his family, who lived in one of Manila’s shanty towns when he first left for Canada.
But, less than two years later, Osano is awaiting details of his impending deportation in Calgary’s Foothills Hospital, where he’s recovering from a stroke he suffered in December 2015 and racking up a bill of more than $100,000 without provincial health-care coverage.
Osano’s work permit expired in March 2015. But, fearing he wouldn’t be able to support his family if he returned home, Osano stayed in Canada without a visa in the hopes he could still receive an AINP nomination or find another way to work legally.
He couldn’t stay as a TFW because of a four-year cap on how long such workers can stay in Canada that was put in place by the Harper government in 2011.
When he finally received a call from AINP in February 2016, his application was declined because he didn’t have a valid work permit, Osano said.
“I’m losing hope for my family,” he said. “I don’t want them to sleep in the streets.”
Thousands of TFWs like Osano, who applied for permanent residency through AINP with the support of employers prepared to grant them permanent jobs, have seen their Canadian dreams shattered because their work permits expired before the province reviewed their AINP application, a process that can take two years.
“Imagine a town the size of Pincher Creek and everyone is left heartbroken because of delays in government processing,” said Russ Weninger, a Calgary immigration lawyer. “It’s been a massive fiasco.” The aspirations of international students with post-graduation work permits are also on the line, said Mark Holthe, an immigration lawyer in Lethbridge.
AINP is the “only hope” for some students after recent changes to the federal immigration system made it harder for them to stay, he explained.
In fact, 53 per cent of AINP applications are declined, with one of the most common reasons being an expired work permit, according to an email from the ministry of labour.
Two of the other most common reasons are that the applicants’ hours were reduced to less than full-time or because they lost their job, indicating the economic downturn has also taken a toll.
“Many of the challenges we have in this program are a direct result of policy errors made by the former federal government in their changes to the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program,” Labour Minister Christina Gray said.
“These changes, along with the current economic climate, have made it more difficult for these workers to renew their work permits and maintain full-time employment.”
Part of the reason for the delay is that AINP has been flooded with applications, but is limited by the federal government to handing out 5,500 nominations per year. Extra applications roll over to the following year, while those occupations with the most applications generally take the longest to process, Holthe said.
Currently, the government is processing more than 2,550 applications for the international graduate category, dating back to June 2014.
Applications from workers in restaurants and food services, retail, hospitality and trucking are experiencing similar delays, but streams with fewer applications are processed within months.
A lack of transparency about what stage of the process applications are at makes things even more difficult for TFWs.
They don’t know if they should look for other ways to apply or plan to save up and go home, said Marco Luciano, spokesperson for TFW advocacy group Migrante Alberta, which is part of a coalition seeking a meeting with Alberta’s labour minister to discuss the issue.
It’s also a concern for some employers that struggle to fill their roster.
“You’re really wanting to keep them,” said Sarah MacDonald, human resources and communications manager at Banff Lodging Company, which has trouble hiring qualified cooks and housekeepers for its nine hotels.
“And those people who have been here two, three, four years — those are really key employees.”
The company has also faced challenges with the processing of AINP applications for employees who come to Canada under the International Mobility Program, which grants work permits, such as working holiday visas, to foreigners without a labour market assessment.
“They leave and then we have to recruit again,” MacDonald said.