In recent years, Canada has been increasingly relying on migrant workers admitted to Canada on temporary work permits.

For comparison purposes


Temporary workers admitted to Canada
Skilled workers (principal applicants)
112,658 (13% increase)
44,163 (15% decrease)


“CIC is actively involved in initiatives to further facilitate the entry of temporary foreign workers into Canada. Requests for the entry of foreign workers have been processed more quickly thanks to ongoing discussions at the federal and provincial/territorial levels and with stakeholders in certain sectors with acute labour shortages.”
CIC Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, 2007

Emphasis on temporary rather than permanent migration is not good policy:

  • because migrant workers do not have full protection of their rights, they are vulnerable to exploitation, and
  • because they do not have permanent status they cannot integrate into Canadian society and contribute to their full potential.

Temporary work permits were designed to address temporary labour shortages, but are now used to fill permanent labour shortages. This new trend is creating a class of disposable workers who have to accept working conditions that Canadians don’t. These workers do not have access to the same rights as permanent residents and Canadian citizens, such as the right to choose where they live to change employers without government permission.

Focus on permanent rather than temporary migration

Canada’s immigration program should be re-oriented away from reliance on migrant workers, to focus on immigrants and refugees granted permanent status.  Canada’s immigration program should be revised to ensure that those who are able and willing to fill labour shortages can qualify as immigrants.

All migrant workers admitted on a temporary permit should have the right to apply for permanent residence from the outset and they should have the right to bring family members.

Protecting the rights of migrant workers in Canada

To ensure that the rights of migrant workers admitted on a temporary permit are fully respected, and until permanent status is granted to them, the Canadian government should take the following steps:

Canada should ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

  • Eligibility to settlement services should be expanded to people living on temporary work permits.
  • CIC and HRSDC should ensure that temporary workers are fully informed of their rights under the program before and when they enter Canada. CIC and HRSDC should also ensure that temporary workers are given control of their own papers, including passport and health card.
  • Migrant workers admitted on a temporary work permit do not have effective recourse to justice because they are often deported before they can seek a legal recourse when they suffered an injustice. Their status should be maintained during the period necessary to seize a tribunal of the matter and to await its resolution. A transparent, impartial appeal process for migrant workers with workplace issues should be implemented.

Facing abuse and family separation: some examples

  • In June 2007, a worker in Québec suffered a workplace injury requiring surgery. His employer refused to give him his health card and medical attention was delayed until he approached the UFCW Migrant Worker Support Centre. The staff of the centre was forced to call the police in order to have the employer hand over the worker’s health card.  

(The Status of Migrant Farm Workers in Canada 2006-2007, UFCW)

  • Workers coming to Canada under the Live-in Caregiver Program cannot bring their children with them. After completing two years of work in a three-year period, they can apply for permanent residence. Processing time and fees for permanent residence can further delay family reunification. In some cases, women are separated for 5 years and more from their children.


November 2007