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

·4 min read
Pawan, a temporary foreign worker from India, says she lost $5,000 on a downpayment for a $30,000 permit she never received. (Ken Leedham/CBC - image credit)
Pawan, a temporary foreign worker from India, says she lost $5,000 on a downpayment for a $30,000 permit she never received. (Ken Leedham/CBC - image credit)

Temporary foreign workers are reporting paying recruiters and employers thousands of dollars to obtain a permit to work in Canada — only to end up with nothing.

CBC Radio-Canada spoke with multiple experts who say some employers and immigration consultants in B.C. often take advantage of workers from abroad.

Pawan, a young woman from India, says she was asked to pay $30,000 in an attempt to obtain a temporary foreign workers [TFW] permit in Canada but instead was charged exorbitant fees by a TFW recruiter and her eventual employer without ever obtaining one.

During the process, Pawan, 25, says she faced broken promises, threats and illegal requests for thousands of dollars in processing fees when she accepted a job offer on Vancouver Island that was supposed to help her get the work permit.

Now, out of a job and without a permit, she's warning others about a system that leaves temporary foreign workers open to abuse at the hands of recruiters and employers.

Pawan's experience isn't unique.

CBC Radio-Canada spoke with multiple experts who say, in B.C., 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 how many employers have charged TFW illegal fees but said that it received more than 2,000 allegations between April and August.

Pawan's lawyer has asked, and CBC Radio-Canada has agreed, not to include Pawan's last name or her former employer's name or type of business so as not to interfere with ongoing developments.

High fees and empty promises

Pawan has been living in B.C. 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, connected Pawan with an employer who claimed they had the necessary paperwork to hire her as a TFW for a job on Vancouver island.

For a company to hire a TFW in Canada, it must first obtain a labour market impact assessment [LMIA].

Pawan's consultant told her the company had obtained the LMIA and charged her additional money to cover their expenses. However, Pawan's lawyer says it is illegal for an employer or a recruiter to charge for 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, the remainder to be paid upon receipt of her LMIA.

"I didn't have… any knowledge about how this process works," said Pawan, who says friends told her that the price was normal.

"That's what my knowledge was, that I have to pay this money."

Ivanoh Demers/CBC
Ivanoh Demers/CBC

Subpar working conditions

Last December, Pawan moved to Vancouver Island to begin working with the company while she waited for the permit — her previous visa was still valid but set to expire.

CBC reviewed the job offer, which said she would be paid $20 an hour, seven days a week, with overtime paid at time-and-a-half. In reality, Pawan's pay stubs show she earned minimum wage and was required to work nine hours a day and six days a week — without 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, all the while regularly enquiring about the status of the LMIA.

A CBC Radio-Canada search found that the company is not currently registered in B.C. to employ TFWs, nor is it on the federal government's list of TFW employers.

After connecting with several immigration support services, Pawan says she quit the company — leaving her $5,000 out of pocket and without a work permit.

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

Experts say it's becoming more common

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

The Migrant Workers Centre in Vancouver says many employers use recruiters to source TFWs. And these middleman 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 Jonathan Braun with the centre.

"They're told this is a normal process for coming to Canada."

Braun says he's seen an increase in recruiters charging $20,000 to $30,000. In one case, he has seen a TFW charged as much as $75,000 US.

Ken Leedham/CBC
Ken Leedham/CBC

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

If employers are found to be non-compliant with program conditions, 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 workers facing abuse can report their situation to Service Canada's telephone tip line: 1-866-602-9448. The agency says all allegations are examined and responded to within 48 hours.

Other Resources in British  Columbia for migrant workers: