Potential for backlash relating to temporary foreign workers

Some people may be misplacing their anger

Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl

Am I the only person who is a little worried about the potential backlash surrounding the furor over the Temporary Foreign Workers Program in recent weeks?

While I completely understand the government’s reaction to the controversy by “naming and shaming” organizations alleged to have misused the program and shutting down the program for restaurants and fast food outlets (at least for the time being) I fear many members of the general public may be getting the wrong idea.

In some respects, I believe this could be driving anti-immigrant sentiment among some people. I personally think we need to do a better job of clarifying the issue and protecting people from mistreatment related to fears about foreigners coming into the country and taking our jobs.

Differences between temporary foreign workers, immigrants

Let’s face it, many people don’t really understand the difference between temporary foreign workers and immigrants who are permanent residents (and even naturalized Canadian Citizens in some cases). It’s unfortunate, but some people just have a xenophobic attitude and simply see the issue as being one of “Canadians” versus “foreigners.”

Those people often don’t stop to consider the fact that some of the people they assume are foreigners are actually Canadian Citizens with every right to live and work in this country. I’ve personally met more than a few people who have a very narrow — and downright racist — definition of who exactly is considered to be “Canadian.”

Because of that, I can foresee the very real possibility of some bigot getting angry and taking his spite out on an immigrant when she’s serving him his morning coffee at the local drive-through. But that person serving him coffee may very well be a permanent resident who was an engineer or physician back home and is just taking a job in a coffee house to make ends meet.

In all likelihood, such a person was probably told her qualifications are highly in demand in Canada. She likely spent several years on a waiting list and came to Canada at great personal expense and risk to her career, often having to start over from scratch.

Paradoxically, I believe new immigrants — along with young people — are the people who suffer the most under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. But why is it that recent immigrants have such a hard time gaining Canadian experience when other people — who haven’t made a permanent commitment to this country – seem to be able to jump the queue?

Canada needs immigrants, especially since our low birth rate means there aren’t enough new entrants into the labour force domestically. The only way to help ensure we continue to grow, remain productive, slow down the aging population and obtain some of the skills we need is through immigration.

But even if someone is a temporary foreign worker, they still deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and in accordance with the principles of fundamental human rights. I would never advocate discrimination or failure to honour existing agreements with such individuals.

In most cases, those people are stuck in low wage jobs – often the type of work many Canadians turn their noses up at. But because they are here on temporary work visas, they cannot simply quit and go and work somewhere else, and in many cases they’re separated from their families for years at a time.

It isn’t their fault some Canadian employers got greedy and started to look abroad to fill their low-skill, low-wage jobs, nor is it their fault many Canadian workers are perceived to be lazy and entitled. And in many cases, temporary foreign workers do help deal with skills shortages or are willing to take the types of jobs few Canadians are willing to do.

Making a permanent commitment to Canada

But as several commentators have asked, shouldn’t we be giving people who are willing to make a permanent commitment to this country priority over people who are just here on a temporary work permit?

While I think we should be questioning just who and how many people we let into this country, for what purpose and for how long, we have an obligation to treat the people fairly who are already here – whether they be foreign workers, immigrants or Canadian Citizens.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be letting in quite so many temporary foreign workers so that immigrants and young people get a better chance to get a proper foothold in the labour force?

Latest stories