April 25, 2020
The Hon. Chrystia Freeland, Chair Cabinet Commitee on the federal response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
The Hon. Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance
The Hon. Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion
The Hon. Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship
OPEN LETTER RE: COVID-19 MIGRANT AND UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS
The Covid 19 pandemic has impacted everyone across Canada. I am writing to you today with my concerns about the desperate need for support for migrant workers and temporary residents during this COVID-19 pandemic. While it is welcomed that the government has put in place the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) as income support for eligible individuals including migrant workers; unfortunately, the reality for many in this country is that they still cannot access it. In particular, I would like to flag to your attention the countless migrant workers and temporary residents across the country who are in dire need.
With the current CERB requirements, those applying must have a valid Social Insurance Number (SIN). This is a problem as many migrants do not have a valid SIN for a variety of reasons. It has come to my attention that the study permit for Alina Przybly, an international student from Toronto expired in January. Notwithstanding the fact that her employer closed the restaurant that she was working at because of the pandemic, due to processing delays at IRCC, she is unable to have her study permit extended. This has caused her SIN to expire. Without a valid SIN number, she is ineligible for CERB. Ms. Przybly is now in a dire situation through no fault of her own.
By not automatically extending the work or study visas as the NDP has advocated to ensure temporary foreign workers or foreign students impacted by this pandemic maintain their status, we now find ourselves in a situation where far too many temporary foreign workers or students are without status and unable to renew their SIN. Without a valid SIN, they are unable to apply for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit.
In order to address this urgent situation, I am calling on the government to extend access to CERB to those whose SIN has expired. During the HUMA Committee on April 24, 2020, I brought this issue to the attention of Minister Qualtrough. We are both in agreement that it is unacceptable that backlogs in another government department is impeding individuals from getting the help they need at this critical time. As the matter also falls within the Ministry of Immigration and Finance, it would be imperative that officials work across departments to address the issue. Minister Qualtrough stated that she would further follow up with me on this. Please be advised that I would be very pleased to work with officials to ensure that this is rectified.
Additionally, to ensure migrants workers are support at this difficult time, we must ensure that workers who are forced to leave their jobs or those who have not started their contracts yet are not deemed to have “quit voluntarily”. Certain job conditions may become increasingly risky and/or dangerous during the time of COVID-19, and many may feel it would be irresponsible to continue this work. It is clear that workers in these situations are only unable to work because of COVID-19, and it does not make sense for them to be excluded from CERB. As such, I am also calling for the government to provide support to undocumented residents in Canada. Like everyone else, undocumented workers needs to be able to follow Canada's Medical Health Officer's directive to self-isolate to help flatten the curve. They need economic support just like other low wage and precarious workers.
Since the Individual Tax Number (ITN) is a unique number that Canada Revenue Agency uses to identify workers from tax purposes if they are not eligible for a SIN, the government could allow Individual Tax Numbers to be used in place of SINs. The ITN is a taxation mechanism that already exists and as such could be easily extended to workers who do not have access to SINs. This would be an efficient and cost effective mechanism for addressing the urgent need for income supports. In addition, the expansion of the use of ITNs would allow more workers to contribute to Canada’s tax base going forward and have a positive impact on the long-term health of the tax system. To protect the privacy of the undocumented workers, information collected for tax purposes or for issuance of emergency economic support must not be shared with other government departments.
We are facing an international public health crisis that does not discriminate and providing income support to everyone in need during this time is crucial. Migrant workers must have the right to participate in the public health strategies our government is implementing, and human rights need to be respected regardless of status.
We hope you take these recommendations into serious consideration, as thousands of workers are depending on your help in these trying times.
Jenny Kwan, MP, Vancouver East