Mr. Speaker, I move that the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, presented on Wednesday, June 10, be concurred in.
This report on migrant workers and immigration consultants deals with several issues that are interconnected, one of which is immigration consultants, and another of which is temporary foreign workers, especially live-in caregivers.
The government has always claimed that it is the government that will be tough on crime. It has implemented harsher punishments for a broad range of crimes in this country and has maintained its tough on crime stance; however, I am wondering whether its crackdown on crime is supposed to include a crackdown on immigration consultants who are unscrupulous and who are taking advantage of people who want to come to Canada or who are in Canada already.
Immigration consultants are supposed to help people who wish to come to Canada and work in their interests to get them through the bureaucracy one must go through in order to enter this country. However, there are some people out there who claim to be immigration consultants but who do not really know very much about immigration law, or they know the laws but are deliberately coaching people on how to break them. There is absolutely nothing stopping them right now, and these so-called consultants are taking advantage of vulnerable people.
Immigrants can be exploited easily. They want to come to Canada so they can earn a decent wage and support their families back home. They need this money for the basic necessities of life, to feed and clothe their children, and to send their children to school. We have found that some of them are advised to lie, to create fake wedding photos or to pretend to be refugees. Then they are told to pay an enormous amount of money.
Some potential immigrants are desperate, and they are told by immigration experts that this is the only way they can feed and clothe their children and send them to school, that this is how to get into the country, or how to stay in the country once they get in. The government is cracking down on these vulnerable people but not on the people who are the criminals. I am asking the government to crack down on those who get paid to tell people how to lie. I will give an example.
A lady showed up at my constituency office. The consultants produced fake documents from Citizenship and Immigration Canada. She wanted to bring her father, mother and brother into Canada. She had a very standard application to sponsor one's family. It was absolutely straightforward. The immigration consultant took an enormous amount of money. She waited for four years and this immigration consultant did not even submit the application on her behalf. We encouraged her to call the police. She did. We even went with her to the courts, and the decision is pending right now.
I have a second case, that of Ms. Sophia Huang. A consultant helped her file for family sponsorship, despite knowing that her income level was not high enough to sponsor. She should have taken on a second job, for example, and that would have given her the income level with which she could have brought her parents here. She again waited for four years, paid the consultants thousands of dollars, and again was told that her father and mother could not come, and her brother, by this time, was over age so the brother will never be able to be sponsored to come into Canada.
Not only do these immigration consultants earn a lot of money for giving people wrong information, but some of them are in fact ruining the lives of these immigrants because they are giving them the wrong information.
Other professions that affect people's lives are regulated by law. To be a lawyer, an engineer or a teacher, one has to prove that one has the right knowledge, but anyone can set up an office and say that they are an immigration consultant and they can tell the clients whatever they want, regardless of whether it is true or not. There is no stopping them. They are what the committee called ghost consultants.
This is just asking for potential immigrants to be taken advantage of and it is a recipe for total disaster. People are being cheated out of their money simply because they want to create a life for themselves in Canada. Because Canada needs immigrants, immigration consultants are just popping up left, right and centre.
So far, the government has done nothing. Before the last election, the immigration committee put together a report with eight or nine recommendations with a very clear pathway on how to fix the problem and yet it did not get done.
The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism came to the immigration committee and said that the government knew this was a problem and that it would be fixed in the spring. However, it did not get fixed in the spring. He came in the spring and said that it would be done in the summertime but nothing got done in the summertime. He came again later in the fall and said that the government would do something in the fall. This is almost the end of the year and yet we see no action.
We saw some educational ads in newspapers saying, “Beware of fraud”, but until we regulate and legislate, that will not help. The Liberals before the Conservatives tried to fix it but they did not get it done properly and that is why it needs to be fixed. The government needs to implement regulations to ensure consultants are not contributing to the backlogs but are working on behalf of the Canadian taxpayers and their relatives overseas.
Exploiting people who are desperate for entry into our country is criminal and, just like any other crime that hurts people, we should be doing what we can to prevent it. We recommended that there should be a regulating body and that if people did not belong to that body they could not practice. They could not help their clients put in an application form and, if they did, it would be a criminal offence.
We also recommended that there be enforcement of this law. Australia has a website with a list of all the consultants who are qualified and immigrants are supposed to follow this list. Any consultant who does not qualify is on another list. Those who have been rejected are on another list and it is a criminal offence for them to practice. That is what Canada should do.
Another section is about live-in caregivers who are the most exploited in this country. The Auditor General recently brought forward a report stating that the current practice for temporary foreign workers does not ensure the program is delivered efficiently and effectively. Currently, work permits could be issued by employers for jobs that do not exist.
A week and a half ago, a call came to my office about a live-in caregiver who came all the way from the Philippines. When she arrived at the airport, the employer did not show up and could not be found. That is a fake job. The caregiver travelled halfway around the world and has been completely stranded since her arrival in Canada.
The Auditor General also said that the department had no process or systematic follow-up to ensure that employers are complying with the terms and conditions of the jobs they are offering. These offices are buried in paperwork without a quality assurance framework to ensure decisions are fair and consistent. We see here that temporary foreign workers and live-in caregivers are being abused in some cases. Instead of recognizing them as nation builders, the Conservative government is treating them as economic units.
So far this year, and last year, 2008, over 200,000 temporary foreign workers came to the shores of Canada. If we add up the others who are already in Canada, we are looking at 364,000 temporary foreign workers last year who are working in Canada.
The Auditor General also said that the human cost of these findings is that these workers are left in a vulnerable position and are unaware of their rights. Internal Citizenship and Immigration reports dating back to 1994 raised serious concerns about the exploitation of live-in caregivers and yet still no serious action has been taken to fix the problems.
The unfortunate policy that the Conservative government has is to use them and then toss them out, which is not what is best for Canada.
The committee then proceeded to make a series of very good recommendations. The first one said that we need live-in caregivers permanently. It is not a temporary situation. Canada has been needing live-in caregivers for at least 20 years. As a result of us not having a universal child care program or a home care program for seniors, we do need live-in caregivers.
The committee recommended that we allow live-in caregivers to come to Canada as permanent residents on the condition that they accumulate 24 months of work during the first three years in Canada and then the conditions would be lifted. If this were implemented, live-in caregivers would no longer be separated from their families for five years. They would be able to bring their families into Canada who would then contribute to their employer and to Canada. They also would not suffer the hardship of being separated from their families.
There also is no reason that live-in caregivers are seen as low-skilled workers as many of them have college certificates and degrees and many are well trained. They should be seen as highly skilled workers. Under the current immigration program, people who have some skills are coming in as permanent residents. There is no reason that live-in caregivers would not fit into that category.
The committee also recommended that the Government of Canada extend coverage under the interim federal health program to caregivers denied coverage under provincial health plans. It is important that the people who work for Canadian families are able to access our health care so that if they are healthy that means that the families they are working for would also be healthy.
Another recommendation is that the Government of Canada should waive the requirement to obtain a study permit for live-in caregivers. Some live-in caregivers are encouraged by their employers to study, to go to college and to upgrade themselves with certain skills. That should be able to happen naturally. If they have a permit or if they are coming in as landed immigrants then, of course, they would not need a study permit. Even if they come in on a work permit, that work permit should also allow them to have a study portion so they can in fact upgrade themselves in Canada.
We also heard various witnesses talk about the exploitation they suffered through the hands of their employers. Some witnesses talked about how their statement of earnings was not given to them, that their passport was confiscated and that they did not know how to open a bank account. The committee recommended that there be orientation for these live-in caregivers to ensure the employer provides a statement of earnings with every paycheque, that the caregivers be given access to a complete statement of earnings and deductions in order to meet the conditions of becoming a permanent resident and a procedure so they can learn how to open a bank account, because sometimes they are paid in cash and sometimes under the table.
Furthermore, in these sessions it was suggested that if there is inappropriate behaviour by the employer, such as confiscating passports, failing to comply with Canada Revenue Agency rules regarding pay and records of employment, failing to make required deductions, employing a caregiver without a work permit, paying less than minimum wage, requiring caregivers to work longer hours than is reasonable or assigning caregivers tasks entirely unrelated to their prescribed role, the caregivers should understand that this behaviour is not acceptable and they would be given a chance to report it to the appropriate authorities.
Other than a briefing session, the committee also talked about there having to be serious enforcement of the law. Therefore, we are asking that the government investigate the allegations of former live-in caregivers in the residence of the member for Brampton—Springdale.
Some members may recall the story about the live-in caregivers of the member for Brampton—Springdale. This issue went to the immigration committee and the committee requested that government bodies investigate the various complaints and, upon completion of the investigation, that they send the results to the immigration committee. So far, the committee has not received a report about the investigations.
Those are the various recommendations from the immigration committee.
There is no doubt that Canada needs workers and needs immigrants. We should have a target of 1% of our population that would come to Canada as permanent residents, which would be approximately 330,000 landed immigrants per year.
Two days ago, it was reported that 43% of Canadian businesses had labour shortages. Fourteen per cent of businesses said that they could not find enough unskilled or semi-skilled workers. We know that Canada needs workers, whether they are highly skilled or unskilled. The question is whether they come in as temporary workers or permanent residents so they can build a community and a neighbourhood in Canada.
We also know that youth unemployment stands at 20%. Why are young people not able to work when employers are saying that they need unskilled or semi-skilled workers, which some of the young people might be?
Statistics Canada pointed out that Canada has one of the highest proportions of low paid workers in the industrialized world. What is happening is that employers are hiring people at very low wages and, as a result, even if people are working full time, some need to rely on food banks in order to survive.
These low wage conditions are made worse by the Canadian government's practice of bringing 200,000 temporary foreign workers into the country, which drives down wages and keeps them low. As a result, it does not benefit Canadian taxpayers.
It is time to increase the number of permanent residents in Canada. It is time to train and upgrade our workforce. It is also time to stop bringing such an enormous number of temporary foreign workers into Canada. As well, it is time to crack down on unscrupulous consultants and ensure that live-in caregivers come into Canada as landed immigrants and nation builders and not just as temporary foreign workers.