Recruiters and employers are increasingly taking advantage of temporary foreign workers, lawyer says

Temporary foreign workers report paying thousands of dollars to recruiters and employers to obtain work permits in Canada, only to end up with nothing.

CBC Radio-Canada spoke to several experts who say some employers and immigration consultants in British Columbia often take advantage of foreign workers.

Pawan, a young Indian woman, says she was asked to pay $30,000 to try to get temporary foreign workers [TFW] licensed in Canada, but instead was charged exorbitant fees by a TFW recruiter and his prospective employer without ever getting one.

During the process, Pawan, 25, says she faced broken promises, threats and illegal demands for thousands of dollars in processing fees when she accepted a job offer on the island from Vancouver to help him get the work permit.

Now jobless and unlicensed, she warns others of a system that exposes temporary foreign workers to abuse from recruiters and employers.

Pawan’s experience is not unique.

CBC Radio-Canada spoke to several experts who say that in British Columbia, some employers and immigration consultants often take advantage of temporary foreign workers [TFW]illegally charging them thousands of dollars in exchange for permits.

Employment and Social Development Canada [ESDC] could not provide data on the number of employers who charged illegal fees to TFWs, but said it received more than 2,000 allegations between April and August.

Pawan’s attorney requested, and CBC Radio-Canada agreed, not to include Pawan’s last name or the name or type of business of his former employer so as not to interfere with ongoing developments.

High fees and empty promises

Pawan has lived in British Columbia for six years. But last year she left her husband, which meant her spousal visa would soon expire.

An acquaintance, who is also an immigration consultant, put Pawan in touch with an employer who claimed to have the necessary documents to hire him as a TFW for a job on Vancouver Island.

For a company to hire a TFW in Canada, they must first obtain a Labor Market Impact Assessment [LMIA].

Pawan’s consultant told him that the company got the LMIA and charged him extra money to cover his expenses. However, Pawan’s lawyer says it is illegal for an employer or recruiter to charge the fees associated with obtaining the document.

Employment and Social Development Canada says the process should only cost about $1,000.

Pawan agreed to pay $5,000 of a $30,000 fee, with the remainder to be paid upon receipt of his LMIA.

“I had… no knowledge of how this process works,” said Pawan, who says friends told him the price was normal.

“That’s what I knew, that I had to pay that money.”

A sign reading 'Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada' visible behind shrubs.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is facing growing delays in processing TFW visa applications due to the pandemic. (Ivanoh Demers/CBC)

Poor working conditions

Last December Pawan moved to Vancouver Island to start working with the company while waiting for the permit – his previous visa was still valid but was due to expire.

CBC reviewed the job offer, which stated that she would be paid $20 an hour, seven days a week, with overtime paid at time and a half. In fact, Pawan’s payslips show that she earned minimum wage and had to work nine hours a day and six days a week – with no breaks or overtime pay.

“I thought they were going to help me with the LMIA [which was needed to receive a work permit]so I didn’t say anything,” she said.

Pawan worked there for nine months, while inquiring regularly about the status of the LMIA.

Research by CBC Radio-Canada revealed that the company is not currently registered in British Columbia to employ TFWs, nor is it on the federal government’s list of TFW employers.

After contacting several immigration support services, Pawan says she left the company, leaving him $5,000 out of pocket and without a work permit.

“They [the Canadian government] need to raise awareness about these situations. About the laws and rules that are available to immigrants,” she said.

Experts say it’s becoming more and more common

Each year, more than 100,000 TFWs come to Canada.

According to the Migrant Workers Center in Vancouver, many employers use recruiters to recruit TFWs. And these intermediary companies can often charge excessive and illegal fees.

“The workers themselves are unaware that it is illegal for employers or recruiters to charge these fees,” said the center’s Jonathan Braun.

“They are told it is a normal process to come to Canada.”

Braun says he’s seen an increase in the number of recruiters charging between $20,000 and $30,000. In one case, he saw a TFW charged up to US$75,000.

A series of texts asking for the status of a visa application, with the responder telling the sender not to be afraid.
A text exchange from February between Pawan and her employer highlights the anxiety she felt about the status of her candidacy. (Ken Leedham/CBC)

The federal government says more than 22,000 employers have provided labor market impact assessments. Employers are required to respect the specific conditions of the temporary foreign worker program.

If employers are found to be in breach of program terms, they can face penalties ranging from $500 to $1,000 per violation up to a maximum of $1 million and approved LMIAs can be revoked .

Non-compliant employers are listed online.

Migrant worker victims of abuse can report their situation to the Service Canada hotline: 1-866-602-9448. The agency says all allegations are reviewed and addressed within 48 hours.

Other resources in British Columbia for migrant workers:

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