Canada has seen an exponential increase in the intake of international students. With a record number of study permits issued in 2021 (450,000), Canada is looking to address labour shortages and at the same time use international students as a source of revenue for its educational institutions. But status and rights are not guaranteed to us.
Migrants in Canada now have an historic opportunity to gain status with the newly proposed Regularization program by the federal government. International students are exploited by Canada’s immigration system and we can play a key role in uniting with other migrants and workers in the fight for equal rights and status for all.
International students are migrant workers too
It is important to think of ourselves as migrant students or workers. Our labor not only sustains ourselves but also to keep our employer’s business running. We do not possess permanent status as citizens or PR in the country. The government can change laws anytime without consulting us and only based on their needs. The right to vote, which is the smallest democratic act you can do, is not awarded to us. We can always be deported back for one reason or the other.
Defining ourselves in this way enables us to look beyond the horizon of the classroom and connect our struggles and achievements with two other essential migrant groups: caregivers and farmworkers. Accepting that there are significant material and political similarities between us and these groups will force us to move away from the common mindset that paying tuition fees is just an investment which will pay off in say, five years. The reality is many students are unable to find a job in their field; they either have to go back or become undocumented. COVID has only increased this. Sadly, there are no statistics published by the government regarding the ratio of people who involuntarily have to go back home. Our struggles as migrants, to find decent work and not be exploited, are the same.
Billionaires and huge business empires want us because they always have a need for cheap and precarious labor. Studying for a diploma or a degree does not shield us from precarious labour and the uncertain existence in the country.
The reason that workers have more rights today than 150 years ago is not because politicians woke up in a good mood and made new laws, but the opposite. The working class got together, took to the streets in a show of class solidarity and forced the ruling class to meet their demands. Workers’ lives were made better through solidarity not competition. Isn’t the same required of us as migrants, to achieve our rights which might seem very unrealistic now but are only fair? We do not have to detach ourselves from labor and workers movements because we are the ones who make up that collective. Only by uniting and organizing with other migrants will we be able to get the demands that we deserve.
Why status for all?
A lot of people say that awarding permanent status to everyone is impossible. There should be strict requirements for who is allowed to enter this country and live permanently. The logic is supplemented by rising populations, fewer jobs, unmanageable number of labor migration with undertones of racism.
“Yes, sure you are welcome here to work,” they say. If you’re any good and obey all the laws, you will be awarded with a PR. The system is designed to help you to settle here and not throw you out. The Canadians say this in a polite way.
At this point, no discussion of the founding of this country is present. What happened two hundred years ago and still happens today- the attack on Indigenous sovereignty. As immigrants, it is our duty to keep in mind, with our struggle for status, the foundation this country is built on. And anybody wanting to protect the nation by putting barriers on our entry must be confronted with the state of their own citizenship.
What is impossible and might even be considered barbarous is how two people residing in the same community, contributing to the same GDP, performing the same work, paying the same tax, are governed by different laws and have unequal rights. Crucially, not having access to PR means being unable to access our universal healthcare system.
The restrictions on our temporariness like the twenty hour work limit gives employers systemic opportunities for exploiting us. When I was working more than twenty hours on cash and got a major injury on my hand, I couldn’t speak up fearing for my status in the country; or the limited postgraduate work permit, which is only given to us once. Thousands of students were at the risk of being deported back if we didn’t fight for the extension policy in June 2022.
Only by taking an active part in the migrant justice movement will we be able to get the demands that we deserve all labor can and must be united in this struggle. Migrant justice is climate justice, migrant justice is racial justice. September 18 is the day to prove that. Come all out on the streets! Fight for your rights because this is the one. Status for all is the way forward. Status for all is essential.
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