Exploitation of migrant workers

Exploitation of migrant workers

Jamaica To Canada

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

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Dear Mr Brown,

I am interested in going on a Canadian work programme but was told by someone who was there that some workers are treated harshly, and they have to “grin and bear” it. Do you think this will affect me too?

— CB


Dear CB:

A leading newspaper in Canada recently published an investigative report regarding labour trafficking, extortion, fraud, and wage theft, as well as exploitation of low-wage migrant workers in Canada.



The investigation documents recruiters and immigration consultants who earn millions by charging predatory illegal fees to workers with the promise of jobs in Canada. The recruits pay these employer agents tens of thousands of dollars after being given false promises of decent jobs. They ended up underpaid and overworked in short-term jobs or unemployed.

In many cases, prospective workers discover the jobs were never real or they were forced to work with undocumented status, and were subjected to extreme workplace exploitation under threat of deportation if they complained.

The immigration system in Canada largely excludes lower working-class individuals and families from permanent immigration. These workers are needed to fill labour market shortages in Canada, usually on a temporary basis.

This makes them vulnerable to exploitation.

That vulnerability is exacerbated by work permits that place restrictions on working for one specific employer listed on the work permit. Moreover, the employer often controls the housing of the temporary worker.


Protection of workers

Critics have advocated that work permits for temporary workers should be made open work permits, like that of international students and spouses of international students. However, it was thought to be unfair to give temporary workers open work permits when the original employer incurred costs to bring them to Canada.

Another suggestion has been made to have more rigorous and consistent regulation and licensing of recruiters. However, this is very difficult to enforce in the context of overseas employment recruiters that are out of the jurisdiction of the Canadian authorities.

I think one of the best suggestions is to hold the employers that hire migrant workers jointly liable with recruiters for all violations of those workers’ rights related to the recruitment process.


Government response

The Government is expanding a pilot project in which workers who come forward with evidence of exploitation can get a new permit and find another job. Unfortunately, these workers have to actually experience the exploitation and have the burden of proof.

Minister of Immigration Ahmed Hussen has vowed to crack down on immigration consultants and protect vulnerable newcomers by giving the Immigration Consultation of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) more power to investigate and punish offenders and increase funds for oversight, enforcement of rules, recourse, and mechanisms to deal with the matter of overseas employment recruiters.



Although these matters arise, I do not want to give the impression that all foreign workers are exploited in Canada. It is a dysfunctional aspect of the temporary work programmes. I believe that education, that is knowing one’s rights and reporting problems, is the practical solution to this matter.

The main issue is that the exploited workers are fearful of reporting problems to authorities in fear that they will have to leave Canada.

I also believe that potential workers should only work with overseas agents that are licensed specifically in Canadian immigration law, and can be held accountable.

Many of these unregistered and unregulated employment agencies have nothing to lose by charging thousands of dollars for jobs that will never materialise. It is illegal to charge a work applicant money specifically for a job in Canada. It is the employer that is to cover fees for a recruiter.


Please visit jamaica2canada.com for additional information on Canadian Permanent Residence programmes, including Express Entry, The Study & Work programme, visas or Appeals, etc.

Antonn Brown, BA, (Hons), LLB, MSc, RCIC, is an immigration counsel and an accredited Canadian education agent of JAMAICA2CANADA.COM a Canadian immigration & education firm in Kingston. Send questions/comments to jamaica2canada@gmail.com.

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