Foreign student and worker exploitation highlighted in Calgary petition


Groups in Calgary's South Asian community are trying to raise awareness of the ongoing exploitation of international students and foreign workers through a petition and community meetings in northeast Calgary.

Organizers, including ethnic media outlet Sikh Virsa International and the Progressive Cultural Association Calgary, are calling for a cap on college fees and better clarity on programs for international students.

They also want the federal government's employer sponsorship program scrapped and replaced with something that's not open to corruption.

They say international students pay tens of thousands of dollars to small private colleges in the hope of completing a two-year program that will lead to securing a work permit, ultimately achieving permanent residency (PR) status in Canada.

But in some cases they discover the programs they paid for aren't even eligible for a federal work permit.

The community groups are also concerned about employers and consultants charging large sums of money for permanent residence sponsorships.

It's a problem more common in larger provinces like Ontario but they say it's happening in Alberta, too.

"There are over 800,000 students in Canada in the process of PR or getting work permits," said Harcharan Parhar, editor-in-chief of Sikh Virsa.

"Many students are now moving to Alberta and it's started happening in Calgary and other parts of Alberta," said Parhar.

Besides high college fees, Parhar says some employers and immigration consultants ask for up to $50,000 for the promise of work permits and PR sponsorship letters, with students and workers at their mercy for years, often being paid less than minimum wage, working long hours and keeping quiet about their circumstances to avoid any problems.

"People who've been here a long time they understand the issues, so it's our job as a community … to come forward and raise this issue," said Parhar.

"When students complete their education, if they want to become PR in Canada, they should apply to the government and get something like citizenship or PR without any sponsorship. The sponsorship is the root cause of the corruption and exploitation," Parhar said.

Organizations that work with immigrant workers, like Migrante Alberta, say it's not a new problem but raising awareness is always a good thing.

"This problem has been ongoing for the last three, four, five years," said Marco Luciano, director of Migrante Alberta.

Luciano says most cases have been in Toronto but but he's also been hearing of more cases in Alberta.

"There's been a growth in that stream in our province," he said, adding a lot of temporary foreign workers are now becoming students as a way to achieve residency.