Advocates say undocumented workers, who spend much of their lives in the shadows working for cash, need--among other things--the proper papers to access government benefits as they, too, face job losses because of the COVID-19 pandemic.(CBC News)

COVID-19: Coalition calls on Ottawa to help undocumented workers

A coalition of support and advocacy groups for undocumented workers says they are being left in the cold and ignored as the country struggles to cope with the corona virus.

Advocates estimate that about 500,000 undocumented workers live in Canada.

They work mainly in the shadows–in construction and as house cleaners.

Many of them came to Canada with valid temporary resident status to fill labour shortages in the construction industry but fell out of status due to the now rescinded “four-in-four-out” rules introduced by the former Conservative government. 

The policy, which was scrapped by the Liberals in 2016, required temporary foreign workers to leave Canada after working here for four years and banned them from returning for four years.

Many chose to stay illegally.

Now, like so many others across the country, they face the pain of losing their jobs to COVID-19 but lack the proper papers to get government help, from programs such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

Syed Hussan, of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, is pictured at a rally for migrant workers in Toronto in June 2019. (CBC News)

“One missed paycheque significantly alters the rest of your  life, ” says Syed Hussan, the executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, a member organization of the Migrant Rights Network. 

“I’ve never seen anything this bad. We’re dealing with abject despair and complete disillusion.”

On Thursday, The Migrant Rights Network, along with nearly 40 organizations, issued a call for five changes to help to help the undocumented workers:

  • Ensure workers without Social Insurance Numbers have access to Canada Emergency Response Benefit through the provision of accessible Individual Tax Numbers
  • Extend access to C.E.R.B. for those whose SIN has expired.
  • Seasonal Temporary Foreign Workers and Seasonal Agricultural Workers should have access to income supports for delays in contracts, both inside and outside the country.
  • Ensure that migrant workers who are forced to leave jobs or those that aren’t starting contracts are not deemed to have “quit voluntarily” and receive income supports.
  • Extend income supports to migrant and undocumented workers who did not earn at least $5,000 in the previous 12 months.

“The worst horror is these people, our families, our friends, are suffering, simply because they don’t have a valid SIN number,” said Hussan.

Because of the pandemic, the Canada Border Services Agency has suspended deportations. (Canada Border Services Agency)

Earlier this week, Ottawa announced $50 million in funding to defray the costs of screening and quarantining foreign seasonal workers coming to Canada, but Hussan says that’s no help to workers already here.

“The complete lack of the federal government sitting down with us is part of the problem,” he said.

“They don’t know how to solve this problem. They don’t understand the scope or scale of this.”

Because of the pandemic, the Canada Border Services Agency is currently not proceeding with deportations.

With files from The Canadian Press (Nick Wells)

Categories: Economy, Health, Immigration & Refugees
Tags: , , , ,

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

For reasons beyond our control, and for an undetermined period of time, our comment section is now closed. However, our social networks remain open to your contributions.