Canada needs proportionate penalties for immigrants caught working illegally
Reis Pagtakhan explains currently, federal government options include deportation or forgiveness
In 2012, two foreign students from Nigeria were found to have worked illegally for two weeks at a Regina Walmart.
Because of inflexible immigration laws, the only two options the government had was to forgive the violation or kick the two students out of Canada. The government chose to kick them out of Canada.
The local member of Parliament at the time, Ralph Goodale, opposed the removal of these students.
In the House of Commons, Goodale asked the immigration minister to review the students' cases and "agree to a more proportionate sanction."
Today, Goodale is the cabinet minister in charge of enforcing immigration laws.
When Parliament resumes next month, he should push for rules that will provide "a more proportionate sanction" for foreign nationals who work in Canada illegally.
One of the keys to our immigration system is that employers can use the temporary foreign worker program when no Canadian citizens or permanent residents are willing or able to fill jobs.
This "Canada first" rule is essential to make sure Canadians and Canadian permanent residents get the first chance at jobs.
Now, no one is suggesting foreign nationals who work in Canada illegally should get off without any penalties. However, because the choice is deport or forgive, many minor violations go unpunished.
There should be some penalty for violations of the law. This being said, deportation for two weeks of illegal work is disproportionate.
What would have been more appropriate would have been a stiff fine in the hundreds of dollars and a warning that a second violation could result in deportation.
Are fines and warnings appropriate in all cases? Certainly not.
If a foreign national is guilty of a serious violation such as working illegally for years by using forged documents, then jail time, in addition to deportation and a large fine, should be considered.
The need for more proportionate sanctions is even more important now that new rules that provide graduated penalties for employers who violate immigration laws will come into effect next month.
It is only fair that employees be treated similar to their employers.
Under these new employer rules, employers guilty of the most serious immigration offences will still face stiff penalties. For instance, employers who abuse or exploit temporary foreign workers can now be fined up to $1 million, face a 10-year ban from hiring temporary foreign workers and have their company's name put on a public list of violators.
However, for companies guilty of minor violations, such as answering a question incorrectly on an immigration form, fines can be $500 or less.
This new employer system is good in that it recognizes employers guilty of minor offences should be penalized less than employers guilty of serious or repeat violations.
In any event, employers who violate the law must be punished in some way. For instance, law abiding employers should not be put at a competitive disadvantage if a competitor hires lower paid temporary foreign workers illegally.
If the laws for employees are not changed, a situation similar to what happened to these foreign students may arise again. If this occurs, I suspect an opposition MP will look-up Goodale's question from Oct. 30, 2012 and read his words back to him: "Will the minister now review these cases and agree to a more proportionate sanction?"
Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration lawyer with Aikins Law in Winnipeg.