Foreign student and worker exploitation highlighted in Calgary petition

Groups in Calgary’s South Asian community are trying to raise more awareness of the exploitation of international students and foreign workers through a petition and community meetings.

Meetings happening in Calgary’s South Asian community to raise awareness

Harcharan Parhar says better safeguards are needed to prevent foreign students and workers from being taken advantage of financially. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Groups in Calgary's South Asian community are trying to raise awareness of the ongoing exploitation of international students and foreign workers through a petition and community meetings in northeast Calgary.

Organizers, including ethnic media outlet Sikh Virsa International and the Progressive Cultural Association Calgary, are calling for a cap on college fees and better clarity on programs for international students.

They also want the federal government's employer sponsorship program scrapped and replaced with something that's not open to corruption.

They say international students pay tens of thousands of dollars to small private colleges in the hope of completing a two-year program that will lead to securing a work permit, ultimately achieving permanent residency (PR) status in Canada.

But in some cases they discover the programs they paid for aren't even eligible for a federal work permit.

The community groups are also concerned about employers and consultants charging large sums of money for permanent residence sponsorships.

This is what many foreign students and workers seek when they come to Canada: a permanent resident card. (Government of Canada)

It's a problem more common in larger provinces like Ontario but they say it's happening in Alberta, too.

"There are over 800,000 students in Canada in the process of PR or getting work permits," said Harcharan Parhar, editor-in-chief of Sikh Virsa.

"Many students are now moving to Alberta and it's started happening in Calgary and other parts of Alberta," said Parhar.

Besides high college fees, Parhar says some employers and immigration consultants ask for up to $50,000 for the promise of work permits and PR sponsorship letters, with students and workers at their mercy for years, often being paid less than minimum wage, working long hours and keeping quiet about their circumstances to avoid any problems.

"People who've been here a long time they understand the issues, so it's our job as a community … to come forward and raise this issue," said Parhar.

"When students complete their education, if they want to become PR in Canada, they should apply to the government and get something like citizenship or PR without any sponsorship. The sponsorship is the root cause of the corruption and exploitation," Parhar said.

Marco Luciano is the director of Migrante Alberta. It's affiliated with Migrante Canada, an alliance of 20 Filipino migrants organizations across the country. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Organizations that work with immigrant workers, like Migrante Alberta, say it's not a new problem but raising awareness is always a good thing.

"This problem has been ongoing for the last three, four, five years," said Marco Luciano, director of Migrante Alberta.

Luciano says most cases have been in Toronto but but he's also been hearing of more cases in Alberta.

"There's been a growth in that stream in our province," he said, adding a lot of temporary foreign workers are now becoming students as a way to achieve residency.

His organization helped a group of international students file a class action lawsuit in relation to a private college in Edmonton in 2017. They claimed they were mislead by the college and immigration consultants about being able to get government work permits after graduating.

While there are policies that should prevent exploitation, there's no mechanism to make employers accountable.- Marco Luciano, director of Migrante Alberta

"It's a pathway that many migrants try to access," said Luciano.

"Consultants are self-regulated and there's nothing to hold people accountable," he said.

"On the government side, while there are policies that should prevent exploitation, there's no mechanism to make employers accountable. So a lot of the issues slip under the rug and people are getting away with it," said Luciano.

The Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants say legitimate, established immigration consultants in Canada are regulated by the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, have codes of conduct and are put through extensive training and testing.

"Immigration Consultants and Immigration Lawyers are authorized representatives under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act," CAPIC CEO Dory Jade said in an emailed statement.

"Both are regulated by their respective industry bodies. Most consultants and lawyers are competent and act ethically. Regulation for consultants received another boost when the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants Act received Royal Assent this summer. The new regulations state that the term 'immigration consultant' cannot be used by non-practitioners," said Jade.

Harcharan Parhar is holding another meeting with groups and individuals in Calgary this Saturday to continue discussing the issues and building awareness in Calgary's South Asian community.


  • This story was modified after it was originally published to add comments from the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants.
    Dec 19, 2019 1:32 PM MT