Is it Time for an Amnesty for the Undocumented and Without Status?

Canada has seen a significant increase in the number of people issued permits to temporarily work and study. While intake is high, many will not be able to navigate the various immigration pathways to permanent residence status. A significant number of these individuals may not want to leave at the end of their authorized period of stay. There are already, perhaps (nobody really knows), about half a million individuals in Canada already “underground” or without status/undocumented.

The number of those without status in Canada therefore will only grow.

Some are calling to address the growing population of undocumented workers. I suppose this means that Canada provide permanent resident status to those who have already overstayed their authorized entries or whose official authorization is about to expire. There are some new programs that seek to accept those who are already in Canada and contribute to their communities, but the take-up and volume is low due to eligibility restrictions. There is the H&C or humanitarian and compassionate application but as (now CJ) Justice Wagner indicated in his minority opinion in Kanthasamy, this was not envisaged as a standalone immigration class (I respectfully disagree).

An amnesty or waiver is not without precedent. In 1973 Trudeau Sr. introduced a regularization process for about 40,000 individuals that had arrived in this country (many as visitors, before visa requirements were imposed on many countries). Indeed, some of my own relatives took advantage of this program (something my father still points out from time to time).

Regularizing undocumented workers could:

  • Add to the GDP and create new jobs
  • Allow workers to find better opportunities and use their skills openly and pay taxes on employment income
  • Give people access to education and health care
  • Protect workers under labour standards

On the other hand a broad-based waiver or amnesty for undocumented workers could:

  • Undermine public confidence and support for the immigration system and immigrants
  • Encourage more, perhaps unskilled, individuals to come to Canada and remain without authorization in hopes of permanent status
  • Negatively impact wages for Canadians and raise housing and rental costs

You need look no further to the situation in our southern neighbour. Millions are undocumented and immigration is a treacherous political and partisan minefield in that country.

Perhaps there could be a graduated process for these individuals to obtain permanent residence —something like the UK indeterminate status, or an ‘in between’ status between work permit and PR. This is a gathering storm —it is necessary to find a solution for us that addresses the growing population of undocumented workers without causing undue negative consequences.