Good afternoon, and thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.
I'm here representing the West Coast Domestic Workers' Association, a non-profit organization that since 1986 has been dedicated to providing pro bono legal services to caregivers and other low-wage, temporary foreign workers. About 80% of our services are in immigration law.
Temporary foreign workers in the low-wage streams are a uniquely vulnerable category of newcomers. They face unique vulnerabilities due to certain aspects of the rules of the temporary foreign worker program itself. For example, in order to apply for a work permit, the program requires that they must secure a job offer, employment contract, and labour market impact assessment from a Canadian employer. This leaves temporary foreign workers with little choice but to hire third party employment agents in order to get connected with an employer in Canada.
These agents are more often than not working in a dual role as immigration consultants and employment agents. We see immigration consultants typically charging temporary foreign workers anywhere from $4,000 to $16,000 for low-wage jobs in Canada. Recently, an IRCC officer in Vancouver told me that he had a case of a temporary foreign worker who paid $40,000.
Temporary foreign workers are willing to pay these fees because they are counselled by immigration consultants that they would have a pathway to permanent residence in Canada, which is often not the case. This dual role presents a jurisdictional issue. As you know, immigration is federally regulated and employment is provincially regulated. In B.C., it is illegal to charge workers for jobs. Immigration consultants know this, so they recharacterize their employment services fees as immigration services.
I would like to share a couple of examples of this. Last year, our organization represented two caregivers. We won our case at the B.C. Court of Appeal involving a registered immigration consultant who was in a dual role as an employment agent. At the first instance, the director of employment standards found that the immigration consultant had charged illegal recruitment fees to these women, and the immigration consultant argued that she should be able to charge temporary foreign workers fees for jobs because the IRPA gave her the right to do so.
The second example involves a case of mass fraud by a registered immigration consultant in B.C. whereby temporary foreign workers were charged $8,000 for jobs that were no longer available when they arrived in Canada. Some of the workers were sent by the consultant to do unauthorized work, and were subsequently arrested and detained by the CBSA. A class action lawsuit has been filed against this immigration consultant, and the certification hearing took place last week in the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver. This consultant has also been under investigation by the CBSA for three years for various violations of the IRPA, including human trafficking.
This concern has been a concern of provinces. Saskatchewan, for instance, enacted the Foreign Worker Recruitment and Immigration Services Act to protect all foreign nationals from unethical practice and exploitation in recruitment and immigration processes. In doing so, the province found it necessary to regulate immigration consultants. The code of professional ethics of the ICCRC was adopted in the regulations, a violation of which could be considered a violation of the act and subject to its penalties. The Province of Saskatchewan thus recognized the need to end the self-regulatory regime and hold immigration consultants to account for their own code of ethics.
I am now going to turn to three recommendations. First, we need to end the self-regulatory regime of immigration consultants. The 2011 IRPA amendment was an attempt to cleanup the sector in response to this committee's report in 2009. It is clear that the remedy has not proven effective due to the lack of ICCRC's enforcement of its own ethical and professional standards. What is needed is a proactive, federal government regulation of immigration consultants. I would agree with Mr. Kurland on this point.
Second, applicants should not be penalized for the actions of consultants. Applicants should have the opportunity to correct errors and misrepresentations made by immigration consultants in their applications. They also need a guarantee that they won't be penalized if they come forward to file a complaint. Currently, people who come forward are the focus of scrutiny and are at risk of being detained and deported. The government should allow temporary foreign workers to regularize their status and remain in Canada while complaints are processed, whether through the department, regulatory body, the CBSA, or another enforcement agency.
There is a precedent for this in B.C. with the work permits for temporary foreign workers at-risk pilot project, which is quite new between the B.C. government and the IRCC, and which issues open work permits to temporary foreign workers who file complaints.
We need a paradigm shift to focus on building security and maximum protection for applicants. This will empower people to come forward, and will also serve as a disincentive to immigration consultants to continue exploiting vulnerable workers.
My third recommendation is really connected to the vulnerability of workers that is inherent in the temporary foreign worker program itself. These workers are rendered extremely vulnerable by virtue of the employer-specific work permits that they receive. If we want to reduce their vulnerability to the unscrupulous practices of immigration consultants, at a minimum, TFWs need open work permits. We see immigration consultants frequently counselling workers to engage in unauthorized work. At the same time, workers depend on their employers and agents for the ability to remain in Canada.
Employers frequently refer workers to specific consultants who then exploit them. The power imbalance between agents and employers and workers creates the conditions that enable this type of exploitation, and even human trafficking of temporary foreign workers, to occur.
In addition, granting permanent resident status on arrival would go a long way to fundamentally alleviating this vulnerability to exploitation. Part of the paradigm shift to focus on building security for TFWs should include moving away from temporary migration programs towards permanent status.
Should the government decide to continue the practice of issuing employer-specific work permits, then the government should mandate that provinces enact regulatory regimes with proactive enforcement—such as those in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and other provinces—to protect temporary foreign workers in their recruitment.