Temporary foreign workers prepare to leave the country

Thousands of temporary foreign workers’ permits expire today and they’ll have to leave the country.

Health care top of mind for foreign workers being forced to leave after permits expire

Mary-Ann Salilican, a temporary foreign worker who moved to Canada from the Philippines six years ago, says she considers Canada her home now. She says she breaks down in tears when she thinks about having to leave. (CBC)

They're packing their bags, but they're not ready to go.

Thousands of temporary foreign workers will see their permits expire on Wednesday, and they'll have to leave the country.

In 2011, the federal government changed the rules — giving temporary foreign workers in low-skilled jobs the option to apply to become permanent residents or leave the country after their permits expire.

But many of those who wish to stay are still waiting for the paperwork to be processed, leaving them in limbo.

Mary-Ann Salilican moved to Canada from the Philippines six years and six months ago, and she hoped to live out her life here.

"I'm scared," she said. "I don't know what will happen tomorrow. I don't want to go home for good."

Salilican said she doesn't think she'll be able to find a job in the Philippines, which would mean the family she has been supporting for years will suffer.

"I always cry, because I don't know what will happen to my life, and my niece and nephews who I support to go to school."

April 1 deadline

The government has not revealed how many people will have to leave by the April 1 deadline, but some advocacy groups estimate it could be as many as 70,000 countrywide.

"Those dreams of staying in Canada are all gone," said Marco Lucinao with Migrante Alberta, a group that works with temporary foreign workers.

Lucinao's group has been trying to keep temporary workers informed about their rights, including health-care options if they decide to stay illegally. He said many are confused about the rules and what steps are needed to become permanent citizens.

"These are also people. It's our responsibility as human beings to help others."

Maria Victoria Venancio was left in a wheelchair after being hit by a car on her way to work as a temporary foreign worker. Because she can't work, she is now in Canada illegally, and without health care. (CBC)

One extreme case involves Maria Victoria Venancio, who came to Canada from the Philippines in 2011 to work at McDonalds. Two years ago, she was hit by a car while biking to her job. The accident left her in a wheelchair and unable to work.

She could not renew her work visa because of her injuries and is now living in the country illegally and without health care.

Venancio said she's still holding out hope the government will make an exception, because she was hurt while working here.

"This not fair for the people who work hard for this country," she said.

Grizel Marron has lived in Edmonton for five years and gave birth to her son, Ghian Zach, nine months ago.

She said she's afraid to go home, where she won't be able to afford the same quality of health care for her baby.

"I need to stay for my baby's future," she said at an information session for temporary foreign workers on Tuesday.

'It makes victims of migrant workers'

Clarizze Truscott was at the session to answer questions as a spokeswoman for the Temporary Foreign Work Support Coalition.

(Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada)
She said she has been touched by countless stories about workers. Her group is lobbying the government to provide permanent status for all temporary foreign workers and their children.

She said the temporary foreign worker program as it stands now treats people as disposable.

"It makes victims of innocent migrant workers and their children who are caught in this mess," she said.

In September, then employment minister, Jason Kenney said the changes to the program were necessary to make sure Canadians get first access to available jobs.

Despite the deadline, Salilican refuses to give up her Canadian dream.

She's now appealing to the federal government on humanitarian grounds, because she said going back to the Philippines will be more like leaving home than going back.


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