Dismissed immigrants find themselves trapped by their employment contract

More and more immigrants invited to Canada on a two or three year work contract are finding themselves unemployed due to the economic slowdown. Many of them then plunge into poverty, stuck between an invalid work permit and a dashed immigration plan.

Mohammed has been out of work for three months. He was invited last October to work “temporarily” in a factory in Estrie. The employer had provided him with a closed work permit accompanied by a promise of salary for two years. However, a few weeks later, he was fired. His Canadian dream has since turned into a nightmare. We are using a fictitious first name so as not to harm their chances of finding work.

“It went well, the first days…” tells the Duty the Tunisian of origin, visibly demoralized.

The factory that welcomes him places him in the position agreed in the contract. But he was quickly relegated to the tasks of a day laborer. The salary is lower than that initially promised; the task, more grueling. Stuck in a closed work permit which prevents him from working for another company, he gives up. “I then give my 200% to obtain and keep my position,” explains Mohammed, aware of the little negotiating strength he has vis-à-vis an employer to whom he owes his very presence in Canada.

Had I known, I would not have come to Canada

The lack of consideration from his superiors diminished to the point where, barely four months after the start of his contract, he was fired. One of the reasons given: “integration problem”. Impossible for him to bounce back elsewhere in Quebec society, because the name of this employer is written in black and white on his work permit. “I didn’t believe they were going to do that,” he whispers. “That day, I fell into a total depression. I don’t know where to go anymore. »

His options are limited to few things. Or he returns to his native Tunisia, where he has “left everything” and has nothing left. Or he applies for a new work permit, which can take months. Or he’s working undeclared, something he can’t bring himself to do. For the moment, he barely receives $800 per month in employment insurance. “Had I known, I would not have come to Canada. »

All the more serious, he claims to have been harassed by bosses. The local union defends it, was able to confirm THE Duty, but Mohammed has little hope. “It can take one to two years to have an arbitrator,” the worker weighs. “Am I going to stay one or two years in Canada to have my rights? »

Victims of economic cycles

Dismissals and layoffs before the end of employment contracts have increased since the start of the year, says Jasmin Chabot, coordinator at the Sherbrooke organization Actions interculturelles. From rare cases spotted last year, he now says he has dozens in his region. “From December to March, we treated 22 cases […]. And that’s just those who came to see us. […] I even had a case where the dismissal was declared on the first day of work! Some are at the airport and we haven’t even come to pick them up. »

If a company has to reduce its number of employees, it’s temporary immigrants who leave first, he observes. “With time and experience, we see the dynamics evolve. At first, it was the landscaping workers who came to us for dismissal. Afterwards, manufacturers, because there are fewer orders, then welders, because there are fewer construction starts. »

I don’t think this province works for us. I lost my job. Then, French is very complicated.

This slowdown is now hitting the IT sector and workers like Sophia, an IT worker from Southeast Asia. We also use a fictitious first name here so as not to harm their chances of finding work. It was among moving boxes in his Sherbrooke apartment that The duty met her. She now has no other option than to leave Quebec, due to lack of a valid work permit. “The bills don’t stop even if work stops,” explains the mother.

Everything was going well since her arrival in October 2022. “I have always done my statistics, I met my objectives,” she says. The first dark clouds appeared last fall, when his employer began to lay off some colleagues. Then, a few weeks ago, an imbroglio with his superiors precipitated things. The ax has fallen on her position and, without being able to legally change employers, she finds herself in the same administrative cul-de-sac as Mohammed.

“I don’t think this province is working for us. I lost my job. Then, French is very complicated,” she explains in English, as she prepares to leave for the promising skies of Alberta. “There really is no insurance. But I hope there will be more possibilities. »

This report is supported by the Local Journalism Initiative, funded by the Government of Canada.

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