$30,000 for a temporary foreign worker visa
Unpaid Hours Worked, Illegal Fees and Threats: Immigrant Employee Sounds the Alarm.
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Immigrants are asked for large sums ranging from a few thousand dollars to $75,000 US (approximately C$100,000), to obtain the necessary documents for a closed work visa in Canada.
A young woman, who was asked to pay thousands of dollars to be able to obtain a visa through the temporary foreign worker program, is sounding the alarm, because this system ensures that immigrants are at the mercy of unscrupulous employers.
In theory, getting a job should have been easy for Pawan, a young woman from India, whom we accepted to use only the first name.
Arrived in Canada in December 2016, the immigrant, now aged 25, is fluent in English, has taken post-secondary courses in British Columbia and is looking for work, while the unemployment rate has never been this low in the country.
In reality, for a work permit issue, she found herself at the mercy of a middleman demanding $30,000 for her services in order to obtain a temporary foreign worker visa and a minimum wage job that did not respect labor standards.
According to experts consulted, many immigrants are cheated each year by employers illegally demanding large sums of money from them for their temporary foreign worker visa.
Pawan decided to tell his story in order to help other immigrants in his situation.
Pawan, a young woman from India, shares her story to expose the abuses associated with the temporary foreign worker program .
Established in Canada for six years, Pawan found herself in a peculiar situation last year, a few months before the expiry of the open work permit that 'she had gotten with her ex-spouse.
I had to get my own status and when I told my story to an acquaintance who is now an immigration consultant, he told me that a friend of his was going to help me get a work visa.
The friend in question was an entrepreneur on Vancouver Island. He was offering her a job and the opportunity to get a closed visa through the temporary foreign worker program.
The employer claimed to have in his possession a Labor Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), a document allowing him to hire foreign workers.
He asked me to pay $5,000 to open the file, explains the young woman. A non-refundable sum that was to be used in the process of obtaining the work permit.
Pawan was supposed to shell out money at each stage. The total amount was $30,000, she said.
“Inquiring with friends and colleagues, I was told that was the price. You have to pay $30,000 or $25,000 to get the LMIA. Now it's around $40,000.
So she agrees to pay the requested $5,000.
She doesn't know it yet, but the offer is illegal: an employer cannot – directly or through an intermediary – charge an employee a fee to pay for LMIA costs, estimated at around $1,000 according to Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).
More than 100,000 temporary foreign workers move to Canada every year. The program allows employers to hire migrant workers if no Canadian citizen or permanent resident is available to do the work.
This has grown in popularity during the pandemic , while in the first quarter of 2022, Statistics Canada reported 890,385 job vacancies and employers are reporting employee shortages across the country.
To qualify, employers simply need to complete a Labor Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). Via email, ESDC confirms that fees for employers generally total $1,000 per position and that these costs, under program regulations, cannot be charged back to temporary foreign workers.
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In the field, however, several employers call on intermediaries who demand considerable sums from job seekers for their services, immigrant-serving organizations report.
The fact that these migrant workers come here on a temporary basis with a precarious status associated with a specific employer opens the door to these abuses, explains Jonathon Braun, of the Migrant Workers Center in Vancouver.
The lawyer regularly receives calls from immigrants in similar situations. The amounts can vary, but I'm seeing more and more people being charged fees ranging from US$30,000 to US$50,000, he says. The highest amount I saw was US$75,000 [about C$100,000].
Often, these are immigrants who discover, once they arrive in Canada, that the job attached to their visa does not exist.
They have contracted a large debt, and they end up in a situation where they can't make any money,” he explains. “They are then forced to do unauthorized work, which could jeopardize their immigration status.
The story is known in Ottawa: a report tabled in Parliament in 2020 documents abuse and networks of extortion, fraud and wage theft by recruiters and immigration consultants who demand illegal fees in return of the deceptive promise of a job and even permanent residence in Canada.
“These people are going into debt, selling their property to take advantage of these opportunities, because they think that's the way things work. The government knows about it, it continues to take advantage of this temporary workforce and does nothing to fix the problem.
— Jonathon Braun, Attorney, Migrant Workers Centre
Victims of this type of fraud can file a complaint with ESDC or sue the employer .
But recovering these amounts can take a long time and there are no guarantees, explains the lawyer.
Two of his clients who paid US$10,000 in 2017 for jobs in Canada were recently successful. They still haven't received their money, he laments.
Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) says it conducts 2,800 inspections a year with more than 22,000 employers who receive a Labor Market Impact Assessment (LMIA).
In the event of non-compliance, penalties ranging from $500 to $1,000 per violation may be issued up to a maximum of $1 million, or the revocation of issued LMIAs. Recalcitrant employers are blacklisted online (external site).
When Pawan accepted his visa job offer last December, she moved to Vancouver Island with the assurance that her LMIA would arrive before her visa expired.
On the job offer dated last December and consulted by Radio-Canada, we can read that it is a full-time job, at $20 an hour, 7 hours a day , with overtime paid time and a half. In fact, she will work there for the minimum wage of $15.20, 9 hours a day, 6 days a week, without breaks and without being paid overtime.
If Pawan accepted working conditions that went against labor standards, it was to be able to stay legally in Canada.
They had to help me get the LMIA [necessary for my visa], so I didn't say anything, she explains.< p class="sc-v64krj-0 knjbxw">An exchange last February during which Pawan inquires about his status with his employer.
But over the course of the exchanges consulted by Radio-Canada, it became clear that no request had been made to the federal government. On several occasions, Pawan pressed her employer, without success.
On June 16, after several months of delays, the young woman finally received a text message from her employer: Your LMIA is approved. She must then transfer $10,000 to a third party for the document to be included in her file with IRCC.
After several months of waiting, Pawan learns during this exchange that her employer finally has the document she needs for his visa. She will have to make two payments of $5,000 to get it. After learning that the procedure is illegal, she won't make the payment and quit her job.
During the same period, she fell ill and could not work for several days.
I got a text message from my manager and she told me that if I didn't come to work, they were going to report me to immigration, cancel my work visa and have me deported, she says. /p>
It was at this time that she began contacting immigrant-serving organizations. They told me that I should not pay so much, that the employer should pay for everything, she says. I was in shock.
Pawan finally quit his job last month. The young woman filed a complaint with ESDC and moved to live with a relative in Surrey until she could clarify her status in Canada.
The experience left her left a bitter taste.
“When we arrive in Canada, we have to pay for our medical expenses, to live here and in more than that, we have to deal with employers asking $30,000, $40,000 for a visa. “
We come here fresh out of school, it makes us easy targets because we don't know the rules,” she said. “The laws favor employers. Canada needs to educate immigrants about these situations, about the laws and rules in place for immigrants.
Its message to other immigrants is simple: don't listen to everything what your employer tells you. Do your research, there are several organizations that are there to help you.