Immigrants who failed to declare the existence of a lost family member when they first came to Canada will now get a chance to bring them here under a new two-year pilot project.
The initiative, that begins in September, was one of several announced by Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen on Friday aimed at promoting family reunification and protecting migrants from abuse and violence.
“Newcomers who failed to declare immediate family members as they first came to Canada were barred to sponsor them (later),” said Hussen at a Canadian Bar Association conference in Winnipeg. “Today, we right that wrong.”
Advocates for migrants have long complained that the existing policy creates hardship for refugees to reunite with family members lost during war, violence or natural disasters such as a typhoon, or for migrants who failed to disclose the existence of children they initially didn’t know were theirs.
“The bar had constantly pled with each government to address this issue. This had been a cruel law and finally somebody listened,” said Marina Sedai, chair of the bar association’s immigration law section. “This is the right thing to do.”
The two-year pilot project will be launched Sept. 9 and sponsorship applications for previously undeclared family members that are already underway will be processed under the new rules.
Hussen also announced that migrant workers who find themselves in abusive job situations will be able to apply for an open work permit so they can leave their employer immediately, maintain their status and find another job.
The change, which starts Tuesday, is a response to advocates’ complaints that abused workers fear coming forward to seek help from authorities for fear of jeopardizing their immigration status, effectively perpetuating the abusive conditions.
And on July 26, the immigration department will also waive the temporary resident permit application fee for migrants who are victims of family violence so they can obtain legal immigration status in Canada in order to obtain a work permit and access health care.
“No worker should fear losing their job when they are being mistreated in their place of work,” explained Hussen. “No partner should be more fearful of losing their immigration status instead of escaping abuse. Today, we say, fear no more.”
The immigration department said it issued 100 open work permits to abused migrant workers in Alberta and British Columbia over a six-year period under a pilot program and expected the new nationwide program will receive about 500 permit applications from those who claim to be experiencing abuse or are at risk of abuse.
Migrant advocates said issuing open work permits for workers currently experiencing abuse is a step forward but it fails to clearly define abuse or specify how decisions or appeals will be made.
“We are pleased to see the government finally acknowledge that tying migrant workers to one employer places them at a very high risk of exploitation,” said Syed Hussan of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. “The solution must be permanent resident status on arrival for all workers, not just open work permits for some after they have been abused.”