This is a derailed dream as we see too often. Earlier in January, on the front page of the Montreal Journalwe presented a family of French origin who had been living in Quebec for two years and were threatened with deportation by Immigration Canada.
“Ottawa wants to deport these perfect immigrants”,
we headlined. This family of three children dreamed of building a new life in Quebec. Honest workers, it was specified, employed in a grocery store and in a Héma-Québec warehouse, declared in spite of everything inadmissible to the application for permanent residence and deprived of their work permit by Immigration Canada.
It is undeniably true that interrupted migratory routes are absurdly cruel, especially in a rich country like Canada, plagued by a chronic labor shortage. The rigidity of the border stems from both vanity and administrative incompetence.
In this case, the use of the qualifier “perfect” is fascinating. It signals a clear hierarchy among candidates for permanent immigration. In Quebec, this hierarchy is named: perfect immigrants are French-speaking first—there are good reasons for that. But since we want to exclude the world’s largest pool of Francophones (Africa), we have to add asterisks, implicit criteria, which sometimes bear the name of “values of Quebec society” or “civilizational compatibility”, to Avoid saying out loud what you really think.
The typical profile is however revealed in a clear way on the cover of the Montreal Journal : the “perfect” immigrants, those whom we really want to see settle here, are of European origin.
For the others, there is the service route: that of the accumulation of temporary permits, that which pushes people to sell their labor force at a discount, sometimes for years, while being excluded from permanent immigration. It is this major shift towards temporary immigration that the journalist from the To have to Sarah R. Champagne in a recent file.
While in Quebec, the debate on immigration revolves around the target of 50,000 permanent immigrants, there are actually three times as many people who, each year, arrive in Quebec with a temporary permit. It is this number which grows ceaselessly, in silence. Temporary immigration essentially consists of four groups: students, skilled workers, asylum seekers and temporary foreign workers. Unsurprisingly, it is these last two categories that place people in the most precarious situations, making them particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
The documentary investigation Essentials, broadcast on Télé-Québec, focuses on the hidden reality of temporary foreign workers and asylum seekers awaiting status. Directed by Ky Vy Le Duc and led by Sonia Djelidi, the film begins with an infiltration into the world of employment agencies that hire workers by the day and by the task. In the early morning, near a metro entrance, recruits are recruited from among the people who show up to offer their arms. They board vans for an unknown destination, where they will be called upon to work for 10 or 12 hours in factories, fields, CHSLDs, always in harsh conditions, sometimes for less than minimum wage.
Sonia Djelidi names it bluntly: all these workers — without exception — are people from elsewhere and racialized people. And the exposed working conditions are overwhelming, from another time. Workers are shunted from one job site to another, ignored by their employers, sometimes housed in inadequate facilities for months.
By delving into the workings of this reality—which, moreover, extends to all sectors of the Quebec economy—we can clearly see that temporary foreign workers are placed on a path that, structurally, is destined never be allowed to plant their roots in the community that benefits from their efforts. Because that is what it really is: we resort to a workforce that we voluntarily place in a precarious situation, to fulfill an economic function that the Quebec labor pool is unable to fill.
It must be said and repeated: our comfort depends on the efforts of these foreign workers who are denied decent living conditions. This shift towards temporary immigration makes exploitation a system. Even more, without being named as such, the effect of this shift is indeed to materialize the fantasy of permanent immigration reserved for nationals of the global North, while capturing labor from the South to plug the holes in the Quebec economy.
Labor needs should never be the main argument to justify welcoming immigrants. Immigrants deserve to be welcomed and to have decent working and living conditions in the name of simple human dignity.
Still, given our reliance on their workforce, this eagerness to categorize newcomers—the “perfect” and the rest—is particularly troublesome. There are no “perfect” immigrants. There are human beings who have needs, ambitions, dreams, and an inalienable right to be treated with dignity where they contribute.