On March 31st, the UofMosaic Fellows at Ryerson University hosted a conversation on migrant workers and the societal borders that they may face within Canada. Panelists included Dr. Sedaf Arat-Koç, and representatives from GABRIELA Ontario including Petronila Cleto, Mithi Esguerra, and Conley de Leon.
Canada has long benefited from a robust immigration system bringing us diversity, vibrant cultural communities, and economic stimulation. Since the 1970s, priority has been placed on welcoming immigrants for economic purposes, and as a result the avenues for which economic immigrants workers can immigrate to Canada have expanded.
While opening our doors to migrant workers creates employment opportunities for foreigners, systematic barriers are increasingly racked up against them making it difficult for them to truly reap the benefits of these opportunities. Marginalized and pushed to the margins of our labour force, migrant workers face growing borders even as they reside within Canada.
We learned that while foreigners looking for work often seek these opportunities, what they are promised is often not delivered to them when they eventually arrive. Integration efforts are minimal, and they often face many constraints due to the regulations that keep workers in the live-in-care program tied to their employers’ home.
Furthermore, migrants often face a double bind, as they face borders both within Canada and in their home country. For example, many Filipino migrants come to Canada to earn remittances to send back home. In Canada, they are alone and cannot bring their family members over, and when they do return they are often faced with hostility if they return with no significant remittances.
Treated not as citizens, but only as workers, they are pushed into precarious work that does not protect them from unsafe working conditions, and they do not enjoy the same workers’ rights that Canadian citizens might. Further, the ‘golden ticket’, or pathway to citizenship, is increasingly unaffordable and harder to attain.
In our discussion, we worked to reconcile Canadian values with the current reality faced by so many migrant workers, and this made for a rich and fruitful dialogue. We engaged with themes of colonialism, globalization, justice and equality, and the discussion challenged students’ perceptions of Canada as a ‘safe haven’ for immigrants looking for work.
Personally, we felt that the discussions really opened our eyes to a complex web of issues. At times it was uncomfortable for us to hear the struggles of migrant workers, not only because of their conditions, but also because of their lack of power and agency. It seemed that the system worked against them, and often stifled their ambitions and plans to better their lives.
This discussion really encouraged us to look into how different policies actually play out on the ground and in real life. Often, what sounds like a “golden opportunity” for migrants is not actually beneficial for them and this discussion opened us up to seeing that. It also gave us new respect for migrants, as we realized how resilient they were, despite the massive challenges that they face both in Canada and in their countries of origin.