The federal government will not abide temporary foreign workers going underground to avoid an April 1 deadline that will force thousands of them out of the country, the immigration minister’s office said Tuesday.
“Let there be no mistake: We will not tolerate people going ‘underground.’ Flouting our immigration laws is not an option, and we will deal with offenders swiftly and fairly,” Kevin Menard, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, said in an email to iPolitics.
The minister’s office was responding to an investigative report by iPolitics that revealed nine low-skilled temporary foreign workers employed in the agriculture sector had been made false promises of permanent residency from registered, and non-registered, immigration consultants who charged thousands of dollars for their services.
While the minister’s office did not comment specifically on iPolitics’ investigation, Menard admitted unscrupulous immigration consultants are still operating in Canada. This despite previous promises of a widespread crackdown on fraudulent immigration consultants by then Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in 2012.
“While most immigration consultants working in Canada are legitimate and ethical, it is clear that immigration fraud remains a threat to the integrity of our immigration system,” Menard said before referencing changes made to regulate the immigration consultant industry under the government’s Cracking Down on Crooked Immigration Consultants law.
Alexander later ignored a question on the matter when speaking to reporters after question period, turning away from the scrum when the query was made. When asked about the scheme in the House, Alexander said matters involving fraudulent immigration consultants should be referred to Canadian Border Services Agency.
Complaints, his office later clarified, can also be made to local police, the RCMP or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre if the complainant is in Canada.
Under Canadian law, immigration consultants found guilty in court for fraudulent activities on summary conviction are subject to a fine of up to $20,000, or up to six months imprisonment, or both. Individuals found guilty of an indictable offence are subject to a fine of up to $100,000, two years in prison or both.
Critics: A Shoddy System
That system, Liberal citizenship and immigration critic John McCallum told iPolitics, doesn’t seem to be working.
“The moral of this is to clamp down on these fraudulent people because they take money fraudulently from people who are vulnerable and they damage our system and our reputation and individuals involved,” he said.
“It’s about time the government took strong action on this as they’ve been saying they had for years now.”
NDP employment critic Jinny Sims agreed. She said she has routinely referred names of problematic immigration consultants to the minister, with no response. Ethnic radio, she stressed, is filled with ads from immigration consultants offering their services.
“It’s been a total mess,” Sims said, adding that Wednesday’s deadline for TFWs has only compounded their vulnerability.
“Their arbitrary timeline of April 1 has created unintended consequences which is workers who are already vulnerable… are now being charged hundreds of thousands of dollars and being made fake promises of possible residency.”
“It’s a very, very sad day.”
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who is a lawyer, said she has serious doubts about immigration consultants – an industry she says appears to require more oversight.
“I’m deeply concerned about the quality of advice that potential immigrants and refugees get from immigration consultants,” May said. “I don’t want to smear an entire class of professionals but in my work as an MP… quite often I find that the advice given by immigration consultants has made their [individuals] situations worse.”
Workers looking to stay in Canada, she said, should call their member of parliament for assistance, particularly given the amount of confusion around the program and Canadian immigration pathways.
A solution, MPs say, must also be found to assist employers who are feeling the impacts of the changes — especially those working the agriculture sector, NDP agriculture critic Malcolm Allen said. The industry has repeatedly warned the government the April 1 deadline will be devastating in terms of labour loss.
The federal government has taken “a sledgehammer” to the temporary foreign worker program, Allen said – an approach the Ontario MP stressed has had devastating consequences for the agriculture sector and time is running out.
“Unless they [the government] are going to do something today, these folks are going to be on planes heading out of the country and some of the industries are going to be in a heck of a lot of trouble trying to get workers, even though they’ve applied for new ones.”
The entire program, he said, “is a mess” – with farmers, businesses, and workers livelihoods caught the middle. “Instead of fixing the real issues with the temporary foreign worker program, they [the government] have literally torn the ag[riculture] sector apart.”
Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca