EDITORIAL: Status for All needed to protect migrants, int’l students

Sep 21, 2023 | Editorial, OP-ED

It is long overdue for Canada to implement a Status for All policy and end the exploitation of migrant workers and international students.

Last Sunday, more than 3,000 people took to the streets of Toronto to march to support status for all. Earlier this month, The United Nations special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Tomoya Obokata, visited Canada and described the temporary foreign worker program as a “breeding ground for contemporary forms of slavery.”

He echoed the same calls made by the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change that the federal government must provide a genuine pathway to permanent residency to end the exploitation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised the federal government would implement a program to give migrants a pathway to Permanent Residency status in 2021. He has yet to deliver on this promise.

Meanwhile, more than 1.7 million people are without permanent status, including more than 500,000 who have no status at all. Also, Canada hosted more than 800,000 international students last year, a number which continues to grow.

As Canada deals with several overlapping crises of affordability including food and housing, the blame often falls on migrants, who themselves are victims of the same crises.

It is too easy to claim if there were fewer mouths to feed and bodies to house, these problems would not be as large. But the reasoning behind these beliefs is fundamentally and intentionally flawed.

It ignores the hard work of migrants who, in the history of this country, built the foundation of our society. One has to look no further than the masses of Italian and Portuguese immigrants whose labour built countless homes and infrastructure across the GTA.

The answer is not to get rid of migrants. Instead, we should embrace them with open arms and give them the rights and protections every person deserves.

Activist hold red and yellow banners with various statements in support for Status for All written on them

Activists with the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change march through the downtown streets of Toronto as part of the call for Status for All. Photo credit: Santiago Helou Quintero

Here at Humber College, it is an open secret international students keep the lights on and subsidize the continued divestment in education by the Ford provincial government.

Indeed, a recent report found international students are outpacing the Ontario government in funding colleges. The commodification of international students is nothing short of exploitation and the results of a system that treats education more like a business than as the foundational block of any dignified society.

That exploitation is not limited to our campuses as international students and migrant workers are subject to heightened exploitation at work, in housing and healthcare.

Five Jamaican agricultural migrant workers were sent home last month after exposing the working conditions they were subject to at the farm that employed them. Under current regulations, workers under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) are tied to their workplace and cannot remain in the country if they leave that workplace.

There is no shortage of stories of international students crammed into rooming houses with dozens of other migrants. The solution is simple. The best way to ensure migrants are not vulnerable to exploitation is to grant them the protections Canadians have by providing Status For All.

It is not a radical proposal.

It is the ethical imperative of any nation that wishes to uphold worker and human rights.