As in many industrialized nations, immigration policy in Canada has increasingly been showing a strong preference for the permanent settlement of skilled migrants in comparison to other classes. Access to citizenship and its benefits are available primarily to those migrants who are perceived to be strong contributors to the national economy and those who can boost Canada’s position in the global marketplace.
The ‘Ideal Migrant’
However, the rights and benefits associated with settlement in Canada are being curtailed to those who fall outside the purview of what is seen as the ‘ideal migrant’ – a self-sufficient, ‘hard working’, economic contributor who places little burden on the welfare state. This shift towards a greater reliance on temporary foreign workers, tighter controls on family sponsorship, and increasing restrictions on the rights of refugees and asylum claimants, puts many migrants into a position of legal, economic, and social precarity.
In the case of low-skilled workers the maintenance of legal status in Canada is inherently tied to a continued contractual commitment on the part of the employer. Employee-employer relationship breakdown can signal the end of the obligation on the part of the employer, with limited avenues of recourse for the worker. As with certain other classes of migrants, despite the length of residency in Canada and individual economic contribution, low-skilled workers have few, if any, avenues for attaining permanent residency and citizenship – a status reserved for the ‘ideal migrant.’
Family Sponsorship and Precariousness
There is also a number of migrants who are outside the labour market and experience heightened degrees of precarity. The nature of precariousness among this group is not tied to labour market conditions or employment, but rather falls on the maintenance of interpersonal relationships. Included in this category are those who enter under the family sponsorship program, where the person’s status is tied to continued sponsorship by a Canadian permanent resident or citizen. This presents distinct challenges to sponsored parties and can lead to increased instances of precarity.
The dependent relationship created through sponsorship agreements has been noted to build the potential for abuse of the sponsored relative who is bound to the individual sponsor for continued legal status in Canada. With a waiting period of up to ten years before the sponsored party is entitled to apply for social assistance or receive federal benefits, the wellbeing of the migrant may be partially or entirely tied to the income of the sponsor.
In instances of sponsorship breakdown such as divorce or separation, sponsored migrants may be left financially unable to provide for themselves, particularly in cases of recent migration, where barriers to social and labour market integration can hinder their self-sufficiency and heighten precarity. Another group who will likely face increased precariousness, especially in the area of health care, is seniors. With the absence of an avenue for the attainment of citizenship, this group could be affected by the cancelation of parent and grandparent sponsorship that occurred in 2011.
Legal Status: A Moving Target
The previous examples and ongoing research show that precarity and legal status are concepts with varying degrees of inclusion and exclusion, which present multiple openings and closures within the immigration system, making legal status a moving target. If present trends in Canadian policy-making and global migration discourse are indicative of what’s to come, it is clear that precarity will remain a growing challenge among those who do not fall into the scope of the ‘ideal migrant.’
Susan Barrass is a PhD Candidate in the Policy Studies program at Ryerson University. Her research interests include the changing nature of citizenship under neoliberalism, the challenges faced by older immigrants in addressing issues of precariousness, and the political narratives behind the construction of the ideal migrant in Canadian public discourse. Barrass is also the Coordinator of the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement.