News and Articles

What Do We Value: Migrant Workers in Canada

Migrant Workers
A temporary foreign worker from Mexico plants strawberries on a farm in Mirabel, QC. Photo Credit: Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press
June 8, 2020

This article is part of a series titled “What Do We Value?”

Since the global outbreak of the coronavirus, we have been pushed to recalibrate our ways of being, reconsider our social structures, and reexamine our values.

While the pandemic has brought the vulnerabilities of our social system into focus, one dimension that has gained limited visibility is the essential role that typically overlooked migrant workers have been playing and the risks they are taking. Bethany Hastie, an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of British Columbia, highlights this in a piece published in The Conversation titled, “The coronavirus reveals the necessity of Canada’s migrant workers”.

From Canada’s farms to its nursing homes, migrant workers have been providing food and care on the frontlines, at the risk of their own personal health and safety. Canada relies on these workers in sectors with labour shortages and yet, pathways to citizenship for migrant workers in low-wage occupations range from limited to non-existent. Caught in an immigration process that prioritizes ‘skilled’ occupations, migrant workers’ right to belong in Canada is reduced to a skewed and inaccurate evaluation of their economic value.

As a society, we have cast aside certain occupations as menial, ignored the rights of those who labour in these professions, and limited the opportunities for these workers to wholeheartedly belong in the nations and communities they provide for. Fortunately, as Professor Hastie outlines, there is a pilot underway to offer farm workers a path to permanent residency. In order to make room for migrant workers to fully thrive and belong, however, we must go beyond reactionary interventions and shift our broader values to ensure that these workers are not left in the invisible margins.

This pandemic has made us reexamine the work and services we deem “essential.” When restrictions lift and this pandemic becomes a memory of the past, it is important we do not forget that the work and people we deem essential right now and will continue to be so in a post-pandemic world.