Refugee claimants and undocumented health care workers are demanding that they be allowed to apply for a government program that would grant them permanent status in Canada.
The temporary resident to permanent resident route program was announced in April as a way to keep skilled essential workers in the country, with a focus on retaining 20,000 hospital and long-term care workers.
While the government has recently received the highest number of applications for university graduates and other essential staff, few applicants have been accepted in the health care stream.
The program is set to close on November 5 and so far only 5,421 applications have been accepted.
The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change says this is because refugees and undocumented people with pending claims are barred from applying and many health care businesses are excluded.
“I felt humiliated when the need for eligibility knocked me out,” said Fasanya Collade, a Nigerian refugee and developmental aid worker in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Collade primarily works with seniors and adults with physical, developmental and intellectual disabilities, and he said he took 65 hours off during the entire pandemic to care for his patients.
Despite meeting most of the criteria, he could not apply.
“The only criteria to exclude me was that I am a refugee claimant,” he told an online press conference on Wednesday.
The program is only open to workers with temporary status in Canada, so undocumented people with work permits or those with asylum claims still cannot apply for dues.
The program also requires applicants to meet language requirements, and have recent experience in an approved health care occupation.
Those requirements could also limit eligibility for people who don’t have time to take proper language tests, the Migrant Workers Coalition said.
The federal government launched a similar pathway program specifically for health care workers with pending or unsuccessful refugee claims late last year, which closed for applications on Aug.
Now with about 15,000 spots for temporary residents exhausted in just two weeks, the coalition is calling for the criteria to be expanded.
“Changing these rules, ensuring access for migrants, refugee claimants, undocumented people without economic, occupational restrictions and language restrictions is a no-brainer,” said Syed Hussain, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
“Otherwise these spots will just vanish.”
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the new route program is innovative, and the size, speed and scope are unprecedented.
“As with previous programs, we will evaluate its findings, take what we have learned and apply it,” Mendicino’s press secretary Alexander Cohen said in a statement on Wednesday.
He also pointed to the Guardian Angels program launched last year, which offered a unique route for undocumented asylum seekers who have contributed to Canada’s fight against the pandemic in hospitals and long-term care homes.
“These bold initiatives represent a paradigm shift in our immigration system – one that is more inclusive than ever,” Cohen said.
Many people without temporary status have applied en route, hoping the criteria will be amended, but have been denied.
Jane, a Ugandan refugee and personal aid worker in Hamilton, Ont., said, “When I first heard about the health worker path I knew God heard not only my cries, but also other people in my situation. ” His full name has been preserved due to the lack of his immigration status.
She fled her country leaving an abusive and homosexual relationship and was rejected by her family when they found out she was a lesbian.
She applied for the Pathway program with the help of a lawyer and waited, hoping the criteria would be expanded to include people with unsuccessful refugee claims, but was denied.
Ugandan asylum seeker Florence said there are many people with similar stories who work in a Toronto residential home for young adults with complex developmental and physical disabilities. His full name has also been preserved.
She was denied because she filed an asylum claim in the United States.
“Our hands are tied. I cannot get a stable permit to fulfill my dreams,” Florence said on Wednesday. “I know there are a lot of people like me who need papers.”