Silcoff | Ottawa Citizen

We should help undocumented workers who contribute to Canadian communities stay in the country, an immigration lawyer writes.

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In August 2020, just a few months after the pandemic began, the then Minister of Immigration, Marco Mendicino, announced a new road to permanent residency for healthcare workers on the frontlines of COVID-19 who had risked their own lives to save the lives of others.

Mendicino made this announcement after a large number of deaths in nursing homes. The health workers of the pandemic became known as “guardian angels.” Many had arrived in Canada via the Roxham Road and were in the refugee stream at the time the program was announced. When Canada stepped up to provide them with a path to permanent residency in recognition of their important contributions to Canada, we applauded.

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Immigration Minister Marc Miller recently announced that he will present a broad regularization proposal to cabinet. As stated in the Prime Minister’s 2021 report mandate letterthe regularization[b]Leverage existing pilot programs to further explore ways to regularize the status of undocumented workers who contribute to Canadian communities.”

Dealing with the construction industry is an easy place to start.

We are now facing a housing crisis, making the cost of renting an apartment and buying a house out of reach for so many people. At the same time, a significant number of people who work in the construction industry building new homes lack immigration status in Canada, as their temporary status has expired. They are now making decisive contributions to solving the housing crisis by building housing that they may never be able to afford or even rent because their salaries are proportional to their lack of status.

Not only has Canada implemented immigration pathways programs in the past to provide people with immigration status, but the government has apologized for laws designed to restrict immigration status in certain contexts. The Chinese Exclusion and Head Tax Act, enacted after Chinese citizens were instrumental in building the national railway, serves as a stark reminder that those who contribute to Canada’s development cannot be treated as unworthy of a status in Canada once your job is no longer needed.

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Operational realities require extensive regularization to be measured. This can be done by creating prioritized programs.

We already have a roadmap for regularization programs in the construction industry. The Temporary Public Policy for Non-Status Construction Workers in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has existed for almost four years, having been twice renovated. According to then Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, the aim of the program is to “recognise the economic contribution of long-term resident construction workers” due to a tight labor market in the industry. Lessons learned from this program can help create a larger one, to ensure it is effective in capturing the intended cohort.

Other programs may be based on different priorities, such as the number of years a person has been in Canada, their work history, whether they have minor children who lack status in Canada, and certain vulnerabilities. The programs generally exclude those who do not meet the criminal and security requirements for admission to Canada.

But regularization programs should not be limited to people who lack immigration status. Including those who are in the refugee determination system would help resolve another issue. Canada has seen an increase in the number of refugee claimants, even after the expansion of the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States earlier this year, which prohibits most refugees from entering Canada through the land border. . As with the Guardian Angels program, regularization programs that include people in the refugee flow can ease pressures on the refugee system and provide a path to permanent residency for those who have contributed to the Canadian economy.

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Eligibility for regularization would likely be limited to people who have been living in Canada for some time before the program’s blackout date, eliminating a pull factor for others who are not in Canada. Candidates for a program would be housed and integrated into Canadian society. They may be the people who repair the pipes or deliver the food. It could be your neighbor or your child’s friend.

The alternatives to broad regularization are mass deportation or maintaining the status quo. Neither makes sense for those affected or for Canada as a country.

Maureen Silcoff is an immigration and refugee attorney and partner at Silcoff Shacter.

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