While there are no accurate figures representing the number or composition of undocumented migrant population in Canada, estimates range between 20,000 and 500,000 persons
Research suggests most undocumented individuals live in large urban centres and typically work in seasonal and informal sectors, such as construction, agriculture, caregiving and housekeeping.
Undocumented migrants are a vulnerable group due to their lack of immigration status, as was seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have limited access to health care, social services or employment protections.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is in the exploratory phase of considering options to implement the commitment in the mandate letter to “Build on existing pilot programs to further explore ways of regularizing status for undocumented workers who are contributing to Canadian communities”, taking into consideration lessons learned from the Temporary public policy for out-of-status construction workers in the Greater Toronto Area, which is implemented in partnership with the Canadian Labour Congress.
This public policy was updated in July 2021 to ensure it is as facilitative as possible to allow eligible workers to regularize their status in Canada. By providing a pathway to permanent residence status, this initiative recognizes the economic contribution of long-term resident construction workers and addresses their vulnerabilities due to lack of immigration status.
Supporting facts and figures
There are no accurate figures representing the number or composition of undocumented migrants residing in Canada. Estimates, which come from academic sources, range between 20,000 and 500,000 persons.
Undocumented migrants are considered to be a hidden population given that they are a hard-to-reach, hard-to-sample population. They also live in fear of being detected by authorities.
The Department is in the exploratory phase of considering options to support the commitment in the mandate letter. Regularization initiatives require careful design due to the complex realities of this heterogeneous population and the potential to further exacerbate vulnerabilities. To support policy development, for example, the Department is hosting a roundtable with academics in March to discuss the latest research and to get a better understanding of the social and economic contributions of this population in Canada.
Out-of-status construction workers in the Greater Toronto Area
The Temporary Public Policy for Out-of-Status Construction Workers in the Greater Toronto Area was developed to recognize the economic contribution of long-term construction workers by regularizing individuals who have been contributing to the Canadian economy and filling a regional labour market need.
The public policy was initially implemented on January 2, 2020, however, due to low uptake of the program, it was updated in July 2021 to ensure it is as facilitative as possible to allow eligible workers to regularize their status in Canada. It remains in effect until January 2, 2023, or until the cap of 500 principal applicants is reached, whichever comes first.
As of December 31, 2021, 195 cases have been received.
An undocumented migrant is an individual who has no authorization to reside and/or work in Canada. The majority become undocumented by falling out of status when they cannot meet eligibility criteria for existing immigration programs after lawfully entering Canada, and have overstayed their authorized period of stay. Only a small portion of undocumented migrants are thoughts to have unlawfully entered, or were trafficked or smuggled into Canada.
Undocumented migrants live in fear of being detected and removed, and many are extremely vulnerable, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to their very limited access to health care and social services.
Undocumented work situations are known to present higher risks for employer abuse and exploitation due to informal work agreements that make accessing labor protections difficult. Undocumented workers are unlikely to report abuse to authorities for fear of deportation.
Out-of-status construction workers public policy
To qualify for the public policy, foreign nationals must have legally entered Canada as a temporary resident; continuously resided in Canada for at least five years; be currently working without authorization in the construction industry in GTA; and have accumulated, three years full-time work experience within the past five years in construction in the GTA in designated occupations. Applicants must also have a family member living in Canada who is a Citizen or permanent resident, or have a spouse or children in Canada (regardless of immigration status).
Family members (spouse, partner, dependent child) of the principal applicants can be included in the application, whether they are inside or outside Canada. The principal applicant and family members must not be inadmissible for no other reasons than overstaying their status and working without authorization.
Individuals who made a refugee claim in Canada and failed refugee claimants are not eligible.
IRCC is working with the CLC to implement this public policy. They work in collaboration with the Department by identifying eligible applicants and referring completed applications to IRCC.
The Department is also working closely with the Canada Border Services Agency to minimize the risk that applicants be removed while their application is being processed. A removal order, where one exists, will be stayed pursuant to section 233 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, once the applicant has been determined to meet the conditions of the public policy (at the approval in principle stage). The stay of removal will be in effect until a final decision is made on the permanent residence application.
As of December 31, 2021, 195 cases have been received by IRCC, with 87 principal applicants and 120 dependents having been admitted to Canada as permanent residents.
The first version of this public policy had requirements that were more aligned with economic programs, focusing on higher human capital. This did not respond to the realities of this vulnerable population.
As a result, the public policy was updated in July 2021 to be more facilitative. The main changes include the following:
Removal of the language requirement, as this was the most significant barrier
An extend expiry date from January 1, 2022 to January 1, 2023
Removal of the requirement to have paid income taxes in Canada and having previous authorization to work in the construction industry, allowing all 500 places under the public policy to be open to those who legally entered Canada as a temporary resident but are now out of status