Vaccine Access Needed for Migrant Workers and Undocumented - New Canadian Media
A health care worker gives a vaccine to a patient

Vaccine Access Needed for Migrant Workers and Undocumented

A coalition of 270 organizations asks Ottawa to make the COVID-19 vaccine accessible to migrant workers and undocumented residents, without them having to fear detention or deportation.

Lily is an undocumented worker at a long-term care facility in Toronto, who was denied the COVID vaccine.

“I am on the frontlines every day just like everyone else who lives and works in the home but while they are now better protected from the virus, I am not,” she told a webinar today that was organized by the Migrant Rights Network.

“Undocumented workers are already denied access to healthcare, housing, social services and legal rights. Now we are being denied the COVID vaccine,” said Lily.

Samira, is an undocumented migrant in Montreal, who is the primary caregiver for her ill mother.

“The curfew in Quebec means I am afraid to go out in case I get stopped by the police and asked for ID. My mother is in the most at-risk category for COVID but we don’t even know if she will get the vaccine because we have no status,” she said.

These are but some of the stories behind a push by the Migrant Rights Network along with leading doctors, health policy experts, and labour leaders, who are calling for immediate action to ensure that all migrant and undocumented residents of Canada are able to be vaccinated. 

An open letter to the Canadian government and provincial premiers, signed by 270 organizations released today, outlined specific measures for the COVID-19 vaccine to be accessible to migrant workers and the undocumented in Canada.

They include;

  • Vaccination must be provided free of charge;
  • Vaccination must not require a health card or health coverage;
  • Names, addresses or other identifying information should not be required for vaccination because migrant and undocumented people are fearful of sharing this information; 
  • No ID information should be shared with federal immigration enforcement;
  • Vaccine must be accessible (in rural communities, to those who don’t speak English or French, don’t have access to a computer, telephone, etc);
  • COVID-19 vaccination should not be coercive or mandatory. To protect against this, anti-reprisal protections and permanent resident status must be ensured for migrants that speak up about workplace issues; 
  • Vaccine providers must be trained so that they don’t turn away people who don’t have health coverage or are fearful of sharing their ID;
  • Anti-racist public education is necessary to address vaccine hesitancy. Migrants have well-founded reasons to distrust medical systems because of histories of violence and coercion;
  • Universal healthcare for all; and 
  • Full and permanent immigration status for all.

“Migrant and undocumented people are at the forefront of the COVID crisis and deserve safe and dignified access to the COVID vaccine,” said Byron Cruz of Sanctuary Health & Migrant Rights Network.

“Hundreds have told us they are afraid that if they get the vaccine their information will be handed over to immigration enforcement, or that employers will use the vaccine to coerce them,” he said.

Making the vaccine accessible

Dr. Danyaal Raza, Board Chair, Canadian Doctors for Medicare said that early in the pandemic, many provinces made available medical care that was previously unfunded for those without, or with the wrong residency, immigration or citizenship status. 

“However, many of these announcements were made without proper implementation plans. As a result, previously excluded groups continued to be refused care at the point of access. As we approach the end of this pandemic, we cannot make the same mistake with vaccines,” he said.

Pauline Worsfold, Chair of the Canadian Health Coalition and Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions said everyone living in Canada is covered by the five principles of the Canada Health Act. 

“This means everyone has universality and accessibility to health care when needed. This right must include migrants’ access to the COVID vaccine and requires measures to ensure this right is guaranteed in practice, not just in policy,” she said.

The Migrant Rights Network estimates that 1 in 23 people in Canada – over 1.6 million – don’t have permanent resident status. Many are in essential jobs including healthcare, cleaning, construction, delivery and agriculture. 

“Many migrants in Canada don’t have a health card either because they are undocumented or because their work or study permits, to which health coverage is tied, have expired due to government processing delays. Those without health cards are being denied vaccination,” said the group in a statement. 

Migrant Rights Network said identifying information should not be required for the purpose of getting vaccinated, and must not be shared with immigration enforcement. 

“Staff administering vaccines must be provided training so that they do not turn away migrants without identification or health coverage, or those that are hesitant to share ID. A number of undocumented residents in frontline work across the country have reported being denied the vaccine because they don’t have a health card,” said Migrant Rights Network. “Some employers have also threatened migrants with job loss and deportation if they aren’t vaccinated. This is so employers don’t lose profits as a result of outbreaks or workers falling ill.”

“The only way to ensure equal rights is to ensure everyone has the same immigration status,” the group said.

Fabian Dawson is NCM's Local Journalism Initiative (LJI) immigration policy beat reporter. A multiple-award winning journalist, Fabian Dawson is an internationally acclaimed author, filmmaker and media expert. Born and raised in Malaysia, Dawson is of Indian origin. He migrated to Vancouver in 1988.  As a journalist, Dawson’s work has taken him all over Asia, Europe, North and Central America.  He has been cited for excellence in journalism multiple times since 2002 by the Jack Webster Foundation while many of the stories he has directed have won national and international journalism awards.Dawson was named the 2019 recipient of the Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award at Jack Webster Awards.

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