Abused migrant worker protection program re-traumatizes many
Advocates have found that government agents involved in the program lack sensitivity and awareness when dealing with abused workers, saying there appears to be confusion over how the government defines and interprets abuse.
Three years after the government’s Open Work Permit for Vulnerable Workers (VWOWP) program began, migrant workers and advocacy groups say it has not only failed to protect migrant workers, but in many many cases, traumatizes them again.
The program was introduced in 2019 as a way to protect migrant workers who face abuse from their employers by providing them with an “open work permit” that allows them to seek work with other employers.
During a session on program failures at the 24th Metropolis Canada Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia on March 24, a panel led by the Migrant Workers Center (MWC) discussed what they call ‘puzzling trends’ of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) officers in processing applications for a program to protect victims of abuse.
“We noticed a lot of inconsistency and confusion around what constitutes abuse despite there being guidance on the IRCC website,” said Amanda Aziz, a lawyer at Migrant Workers of Vancouver.
“There was also a lack of flexibility and sensitivity in terms of reviewing these applications and a lack of recognition that applicants in these situations are vulnerable, as the permit is called.”
According to an MWC report Released Wednesday, immigration officials adhered to a limited scope of what constitutes financial abuse and openly ignored psychological abuse unless vulnerable workers provide a significant amount of evidence.
In 97% of applications reviewed for the study, foreign workers experienced some form of financial abuse by their employer, such as being forced to work overtime without pay, being refused payment of wages stipulated in their contract or be forced to pay recruitment fees in order to obtain employment.
Immigration officials often accepted unpaid wages and unreasonable working hours in worker applications, but collection of recruitment fees – a violation of BC Employment Standards Act – has been largely ignored.
System to help vulnerable workers adds heavy burden to victims
In some cases, financially exploited workers have been targeted for deportation from Canada based on the information provided in their application.
As a migrant worker, Carlos, who uses a pseudonym for his own safety, suffered emotional abuse, paid $7,000 in recruitment fees and worked 12 to 15 hour days for meager wages.
As a new temporary worker in Canada, Carlos trusted his employer and an immigration consultant to guide him through the immigration process so he could stay in Canada legally. In return, he was misled to work in the country without a valid permit. IRCC forwarded this information to the Canada Border Services Agency, which subsequently issued a removal order.
“I feel like a criminal,” Carlos said at a press conference on Wednesday. “I feel like I have been treated unfairly and am being punished for being exploited by my immigration consultant and my employer.”
At the conference, Aziz also noted that when migrants were called to interview for their VWOWP application, some immigration officials screened the workers with “very harsh interrogations” that showed a lack of approach. trauma-informed to work with abused migrant workers.
“[We saw] an interview style that does not consider that you are talking to someone who has probably experienced a very significant amount of abuse and exploitation and who may not be able to relate everything that happened to them in the way as you wish,” Aziz said. , citing interview notes.
Migrant workers fired, abusive employers go unpunished
Abused workers who successfully obtain an open work permit are usually only allowed to work for 12 months. For workers to remain in the country after this period, they must find a new employer to sponsor them via an employer-restricted work permit, again exposing them to further abuse as they are dependent on their employer to retain the right to live in Canada. .
Mary Grace De Guzman, chair of the board of directors of the Migrant Workers Centre, said that when she asked to extend the six-month permit she received as a victim of human trafficking in 2018, the ‘IRCC had initially refused his request.
“A temporary residence permit for a victim of six months is not enough for us. It is not enough to heal from trauma,” De Guzman told the conference. “And why do they want me sent home and they tolerate [my] employer? Why are many workers being sent home and not getting justice?
When a work permit is approved for a vulnerable migrant worker under the scheme, employers are required to deal with a compliance investigation by IRCC.
In reviewing migrant applications for the VWOWP, the Migrant Workers Center found that these surveys are often not administered promptly by officials.
Aziz pointed out that the MWC has often seen workers from the same employer apply for an open work permit, alleging that they have suffered the same type of abuse. Although the MWC report did not address employer compliance, there is skepticism about whether such investigations are taking place.
“In our experience, that doesn’t happen,” Aziz said.
IRCC provides IIsyous employers who have failed the compliance investigation of adequate labor rights and standards under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program or the International Mobility Program. The list lists 580 non-compliant employers from June 2016 to March 2022.
Calculating the average fines from the January to March 2022 list, each fined employer paid approximately $13,000.
A total of 2,481 people applied for the VOWWP program from June 2019 to July 2021. “Of these, 2,345 were processed by IRCC and the approval rate was 57.1%,” according to MWC’s report. .
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