This migrant farm worker says Canada’s new immigration program is excluding people like him

A chicken catcher in Ontario since 2013, Gary was thrilled when he first learned about Canada’s new program to grant permanent residence to 90,000 essential foreign workers and international graduates.

But that excitement quickly turned to despair for the migrant farm worker from Mexico, when he and others realized the exorbitant price tag to apply to the one-time special immigration program.

The English language proficiency test costs about $300. The application fee is $1,000. Then there’s the thousands of dollars he will need to pay a lawyer to help him get documents translated and navigate the tedious application process.

“I am excluded from the government’s perm residency program because I cannot pass the English test and the cost is prohibitive. If we have survived here working in English for years, why do we now need to do a test?” said Gary, who asked his last name be withheld for fear of repercussions to his immigration status in Canada.

“All the costs of applying to this program are barriers to us. We make minimum wage here. It’s impossible for us.”

And Gary is not alone, according to an online survey released Tuesday by the Migrant Rights Network, Canada’s largest migrant-led coalition, which asked almost 4,000 international graduates and migrant workers if they met the criteria of the new program.

The new immigration pathway, which opens for applications Thursday, aims to grant permanent residence to 90,000 applicants comprising recent international graduates and temporary foreign workers with experience in health care and essential occupations.

Applications through the program are capped and to qualify, they must be employed, be currently in Canada, have a valid English test result, and have the required documents at the time of application.

More than 45 per cent of the migrant workers and 34.5 per cent of international graduates who participated in the survey said they won’t qualify for a variety of reasons:

  • 25.4 per cent of the essential workers did not meet either the 12 months of work required in the designated occupations despite working in essential jobs;
  • 13.6 per cent of the international graduates and 6.3 per cent of those in the essential workers stream are not currently employed;
  • 13.7 per cent of the respondents are without valid work authorization after losing their jobs during COVID-19 and are not legally allowed to work elsewhere because their work permits restrict them to work for the employers who brought them to Canada.

However, meeting the language requirement was one of the biggest hurdles faced by the prospective applicants in the low-skilled but essential work sector. Forty-six per cent of the survey respondents said they do not have valid English or French language accreditation.

Syed Hussan of the Migrant Rights Network said few spots are available now for applicants to register for one of the two government designated language tests.

Some migrants such as farmworkers and domestic workers, he says, also are unable to leave farms or employer-provided housing to go to big urban centres to take the test, let alone to take time off to study and sit for the exam.

“We don’t need small, one-off, exclusionary pilot programs, we need an overhaul of the immigration system so that every resident in the country has the same immigration status and therefore the same access to labour rights, health care, and other essential services,” Hussan said. “These rights are a matter of life and death.”



The migrant advocacy network said at least half a dozen migrant farmworkers have died of COVID and as many international students have committed suicide across Canada during the pandemic due to financial and immigration pressures.

It urges Ottawa to expand the new pathway to include those without status and remove the 90,000 cap as well as all the requirements for an English language test, educational credentials, current employment and valid immigration status.

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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