Ottawa expands immigration pathway for out-of-status construction workers in GTA, waives some fees

By Cristin Schmitz

Law360 Canada (January 20, 2023, 3:11 PM EST) -- The federal Department of Immigration and Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has announced it is expanding access to permanent residence for 1,000 out-of-status construction workers in the greater Toronto area, and is also providing free replacements for permanent resident cards, Canadian citizenship certificates or cards, Canadian passports and other travel documents that were lost or destroyed last year as a result of Hurricane Fiona in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.

IRCC made the announcements separately on Jan. 20.

The new initiative for construction workers expands and extends IRCC’s existing permanent residence pilot program for 500 out-of-status construction workers in the GTA, that was launched in July 2019 in partnership with the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), in order to help employers fill critical labour shortages, IRCC said.

Since the pilot program began, 452 people have been accepted as permanent residents — 190 principal applicants and 262 dependants, the government said.

IRCC explained that doubling the scope of the program to 1,000 workers “acknowledges the critical role that construction workers play in building and growing our cities, and offers them and their families a path to permanent residency so that they can stay long-term.”

The government said the program not only promotes greater stability in the construction industry and ensures that skilled workers in Canada continue to address critical housing development needs, it also helps bring more workers out of the underground economy.

IRCC said eligible individuals can apply for permanent residence until Jan. 2, 2024, and can include their spouses, partners and dependent children in their application.

The federal government said potential applicants must continue to submit their names to the CLC, who will determine their eligibility before referring them to IRCC.

Under the pilot program, applicants who have significant work experience in construction occupations in the GTA, family members in Canada, a referral letter from the CLC and no reason for being inadmissible other than overstaying their visa and working without authorization, may be able to apply for permanent residence in Canada.

IRCC said it is exploring broader regularization pathways for undocumented migrants and their families. Pathways to permanent residence will offer more opportunities for individuals to enter or stay in the job market and fill labour shortages, the department said.

“The government of Canada will take into account the advice from consultations with academics, non-governmental organizations, provinces and territories as we explore new and innovative ways to regularize the status of undocumented workers in Canada.”

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said in a statement “by providing regular pathways for out-of-status migrants, we are not only protecting workers and their families, but also safeguarding Canada’s labour market and ensuring that we can retain the skilled workers we need to grow our economy and build our communities.”

Added Toronto-area Liberal MP Peter Fonseca, “by taking away the fear of removal, this program truly improves the lives and communities of those who have fallen out-of-status.”

In IRCC’s press release, the CLC noted that out-of-status construction workers contribute much to the economy and society, and continue to fill labour shortages. However, without status they live and work in fear of detection, detainment and deportation. The union said they are vulnerable to employer exploitation and abuse, and they and their families live with limited access to education, health and social programs.

IRCC noted that immigration accounts for almost 100 per cent of Canada’s labour force growth, and about 75 per cent of Canada’s population growth comes from immigration, mostly in the economic category. Immigrants account for 36 per cent of physicians, 33 per cent of business owners with paid staff and 41 per cent of engineers.

The federal government said that by 2036, immigrants will represent up to 30 per cent of Canada’s population, compared to 20.7 per cent in 2011.

Notably, Canada’s aging population means that the worker-to-retiree ratio is expected to be two to one by 2035 as compared to seven to one 50 years ago.

According to IRCC, between January and October 2022, Canada issued more than 645,000 work permits — nearly four times more than the 163,000 issued over the same period in 2021.

The federal government also announced Jan. 20 that IRCC will issue free replacement documents for Canadians who need to replace vital lost or destroyed documents, including travel documents and citizenship certificates, as a direct result of Hurricane Fiona.

The replacement documents will expire on the same date as the original damaged or lost ones would have expired, the government said.

The covered documents include permanent resident cards, Canadian citizenship certificates or cards, Canadian passports and other travel documents that are lost, damaged, destroyed or inaccessible due to Hurricane Fiona.

IRCC said people will need to provide proof they have been directly affected by the hurricane, including proof of residence in an affected area.

The fee waiver and deadline extensions take effect retroactively from Sept.24, 2022, “and will continue until further notice,” IRCC said. “This time frame gives Canadians and permanent residents time to sort out what documents they need to replace and to apply with no fees.”

Fraser said, “while waiving fees and extending deadlines for vital documents is just one small effort on our part, it is our hope that it will help ease the burden and allow those affected to focus on the more important task of rebuilding their lives and communities.”

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