Federal Government Sides with Employers and their Exploitative Practices

Government Rejects Widely Supported Call for Open Work Permits for Migrant Workers

MONTRÉAL – In response to a parliamentary petition by the Open Work Permit NOW campaign to end employer specific work permits, the Government of Canada has doubled down on maintaining tied labour as an important feature of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and Canada’s immigration system. This position overlooks well-documented human rights violations, downplays the urgent need for reforms, and fails to acknowledge how deeply out-of-sync the current situation is with the values and principles we claim to uphold as a country.

The Open Work Permits NOW Campaign, a coalition of migrant workers and their allies from across Canada, is deeply troubled by the federal government’s refusal to address long-standing concerns regarding closed work permits. Migrant workers are important members of our communities and perform essential work in many industries. Employer-specific work permits are a violation of their fundamental human right to freely change employers, and have demonstrably resulted in widespread abuse and mistreatment of migrant workers across the country.

“Migrant workers in Canada are excluded from the very laws designed to protect people in the workplace. Being tied to an employer is the very definition of vulnerability and a recipe for exploitation” says Gabriel Allahdua, former migrant worker and author of “Harvesting Freedom. Life of a Migrant Worker in Canada.” “The government’s failure to address this is a clear indication they are prioritizing business interests over the well-being of workers, contradicting Canada's commitment to the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the promise of leaving no one behind."

In its response, the government affirmed it is considering sector-specific work permits as a potential policy alternative to the current system. However, sector-specific work permits will be another band-aid solution to an already flawed system. “We are very concerned that reforms that do not recognize the systemic abuse of the closed work permit program and the widespread abuses experienced by people who come to work in Canada will be short-sighted and add to an already overly complicated system,” explains Shelley Gilbert, Interim Executive Director of the Legal Assistance of Windsor. “The abuse of migrant workers is not a recent issue or problem. It is entrenched in a system and a way of thinking that minimizes the value placed on racialized workers and/or particular industries in our country.”

There is a growing consensus that these permits significantly contribute to the heightened vulnerability of migrant workers to violations of their rights. The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration’s 2009 report on temporary foreign workers and non-status workers recommended that the federal government discontinue employer-specific work permits. The HUMA committee 2006 report on the temporary foreign workers program found that “employer-specific work permits can place migrant workers in a vulnerable position with negative implications for their physical and mental well-being.” It recommended that immediate steps be taken to eliminate employer-specific work permits.

These permits were also denounced in September 2023 by the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, who urges Canada to do more to protect workers and offer a clear pathway to permanent residency for all migrants. Closed work permits are also the subject of two class action lawsuits that allege severe violations of the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Closed work permits create the conditions that allow employers to abuse them. It is well documented and must stop. The federal government is ignoring the evidence in refusing to accept the need for fundamental change of this system. We will continue to stand with migrant workers in fighting for their rights," said Gauri Sreenivasan, Co-Executive Director of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

The federal government must replace, without delay, closed work permits with unconditional open work permits and open barrier-free pathways to permanent residency for all migrant workers (regardless of wage level, occupation, or national origin.


For more information, please contact the Canadian Council for Refugees at media@ccrweb.ca