Ottawa looks to give permanent residency to asylum seekers who work in health care

The federal government is working on a special program that would grant permanent residency to asylum seekers who have worked in health-care roles during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Program, still needing cabinet approval, would extend to some security guards

People hold up signs during a demonstration outside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's constituency office in Montreal on Saturday, June 6, where they called on the government to give residency status to migrant workers. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

The federal government is working on a special program that would grant permanent residency to asylum seekers who have worked in health-care roles during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The temporary measure is expected to cover all the regions of the country. It's unclear how many asylum seekers would benefit, but most would likely be in Quebec.

The proposed program, details of which were obtained by Radio-Canada, would extend beyond those who worked in long-term care homes, known in Quebec as CHSLDs, to all asylum seekers who have been working in the health system, including security guards.

It would not, however, apply to asylum seekers who worked in other sectors — even jobs deemed essential during the pandemic.

Radio-Canada obtained a copy of a presentation on the proposal given by Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino late Tuesday to the cabinet committee on COVID-19. 

Economic Development Minister Mélanie Joly, Liberal MP for Montreal's Ahuntsic-Cartierville riding, said Wednesday on Radio-Canada's Tout un matin the program had still not been approved by the cabinet committee.

She declined to provide details about the proposal, saying only it was important to recognize the contribution of those working on the front lines.

Discussions still going on

In recent days, according to information obtained by Radio-Canada, Quebec and Ottawa have held meetings about the plan, but have not yet reached an agreement.

"We are at work. Discussions are continuing with the federal government, since asylum seekers are currently a federal process," Marc-André Gosselin, a spokesperson for Quebec's Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, said Tuesday evening.

The new program still requires approval from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Late last month, in the face of public pressure, Quebec Premier François Legault said he would have Jolin-Barrette look at the situation, on a case-by-case basis, as a way of saying "thank you."

But he stressed, at the time, that his government would also have discussions with the federal government, which is responsible for refugee applications.

Calls for recognition

There have been growing calls to recognize the contribution of asylum seekers who have served as "guardian angels" during the pandemic.

Since 2017, tens of thousands of people have crossed into Canada from the U.S. at Roxham Road, which leads into Quebec.

Advocates raised concern they may not be able to stay in Canada when deportations, which have nearly ground to a halt during the COVID-19 crisis, resume.

Shelove Jean-Charles crossed at Roxham Road in 2017. She wants to become a nurse. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC)

Shelove Jean-Charles, who is originally from Haiti and crossed at Roxham Road, has been working at a CHSLD since January.

She said she was "touched" by the possibility a program could be in the works that could change her fate. 

She is hopeful she will be able to stay in Quebec and eventually become a nurse.

Guillaume Cliche-Rivard, the president of Quebec's association of immigration lawyers, estimated several thousand people could stand to benefit from such a program.

"It's a pretty broad definition," he said, estimating that it could affect several thousand people.

"I think it's absolutely fantastic. They listened to us very much. There was a big movement from the population and from society."

With reporting by Romain Schué and Sudha Krishnan

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