Canada is developing a new program to legalize the status of 500,000 immigrants. The ministry is consulting with advocacy groups, industry experts and researchers, but program details are still vague.
Up to 500,000 immigrants working in Canada without official status will have a road to permanent residency due to a program the federal government plans to establish.
According to Radio-Canada, the initiative would have an unprecedented reach. It would cover those whose visas or work permits had expired and those whose refugee applications may have been rejected or halted because of a ban on deportations to their country.
An anonymous government official informed Radio-Canada that they are looking into measures to regularize persons who live in Canada with precarious status. Furthermore, IRCC estimates that there could be up to 500,000 undocumented migrant population in Canada.
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Reasons for creating a program for undocumented workers
Late last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requested Immigration Minister Sean Fraser in a letter of mandate to further examine options of regularizing status for undocumented workers contributing to Canadian communities.
Rémi Larivière, a spokesman for the Immigration Government, acknowledged that work to fulfill the above objective “is beginning.” The ministry is speaking with academic researchers, experts, industry professionals, and advocates.
Throughout the summer and in recent weeks, the minister has contacted several advocacy groups to seek their input on the initiative, according to Larivière. However, there is still no news about potential criteria or a launch date.
Hady Anne, a Montreal-based Solidarity Without Borders spokesperson, stated, “We’re looking for an inclusive program that would help many individuals, but it’s still vague.”
Refugee advocate and former president of Quebec immigration organizations, Rivka Augenfeld, says there have been programs to regularize the status of immigrant groups in the past, but none have included as many people. Explained the former president of the Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes.
Regarding the anticipated scope of the upcoming program, Augenfeld commented, “It’s never been seen.” She did, however, issue a warning that the initiative would require “the will of a good minister as well as the prime minister’s support” to succeed.
The thousands of people who have entered Roxham Road in Lacolle, Quebec, an unofficial crossing site that is becoming increasingly popular with people entering Canada from the United States, would not be eligible to register, nor would temporary workers or asylum seekers.
Since there is a significant backlog in processing asylum applications, many people have to wait years before they can even appear before an immigration and refugee board judge to describe their case.
According to Lisa Middlemiss, a former president of the Canadian Bar Association, the new program would benefit immigrants with precarious status who have long lived and worked in Canada. Still, it might be unfair to those with temporary residence status in Canada without the chance to apply for permanent residency.
Further, Middlemiss comments on the program as ambitious and interesting, which could also lead to frustration.
Ministry spokesperson, Larivière said Ottawa would continue to promote inclusive immigration programs that fit Canada’s economic needs and fuel growth.
Would Quebec support the new program?
Advocates like Augenfeld and Anne are concerned that the government of Quebec would step in and restrict the program.
For example, the federal government established a program during the pandemic that allowed asylum seekers working in health care to apply for permanent residency. However, Premier François Legault’s government objected to extending the program to workers who did not directly care for patients, such as cooking staff and cleaners.
Immigration advocates highly disapproved of the decision that excluded thousands of people.
Moreover, Legault denied participating in a different federal program that offered graduates and necessary workers a new path to permanent residency in the spring of 2021.
However, with an overwhelming majority of 90 seats out of 125 in the National Assembly, Legault was re-elected on Monday.
In addition, he received criticism before the election for linking immigration to extremism and violence. However, he later asserted that Quebec’s decision to boost immigration levels would be “suicidal,” claiming that doing so would endanger the French language.
Solidarity Against Borders’ Anne expressed concern that Quebec would complicate matters. Similarly, Augenfeld asserted that Quebec might “throw a wrench” in the province’s immigration policy.
Haitian nationals, primarily residents in Quebec, may be eligible because the program will likely include people from nations where Canada has a moratorium on deportations.
Frantz André, who has assisted countless Haitians seeking asylum in the province, is hopeful that Legault will be more helpful this time.
André added, “We’re hoping he’ll be more kind.” These people have lived in a dysfunctional system for far too long. But, on the other hand, they have proven they are legitimate citizens, he explained.