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Violence Against Women who are Temporary Foreign Workers

Violence against women who are temporary foreign workers may look different because of the unique circumstances they are living in. Women who are temporary foreign workers also face more barriers to accessing support.

Who are Temporary Foreign Workers in Ontario?

Temporary foreign workers (also referred to as migrant workers) are people who are brought into Canada on a temporary work permit according to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program managed by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.  There are four categories of Temporary Foreign Workers: high-skilled workers, Live-in-Caregivers, seasonal agricultural workers, and low-skill workers. As of 2012, there were approximately 10,000 temporary foreign workers across 7 Ontario cities. Women make up one-third of the low-skill worker program and 95% of the Live-in Caregiver program. Some temporary foreign workers are eligible to become permanent residents after they have completed requirements of their work contracts. However, only 50% of Live-In Caregivers who entered Canada between 2003-2005 were successful in gaining permanent residence by 2007.

How is Violence Against Women who are Temporary Foreign Workers Distinct?

This section will cover the specific experiences of violence that women who are temporary foreign workers may face. Please add this information to what you learned in the sections on violence against women, the types of violence and the warning signs of domestic violence.

Women who are temporary foreign workers may experience violence in distinct ways. For example:

Being Mindful of Refugee Women’s Life Experiences

By definition, a refugee woman has come to Canada because conditions in her home country were not safe. It is important to be mindful that a refugee woman we are speaking with may have survived abuse in her home country and may have been persecuted by state forces and non-state forces such as paramilitary groups. She may be a survivor of rape, torture and trauma experienced in the context of war.

  • Her work visa is tied to her specific employer, and she may be abused by her employer. If she successfully reports abuse or is fired by her employer, she has to wait for a new work visa to be approved, which takes over 6 months. This means that she will have zero income for at least 6 months, because if she works for any other employer before this visa is issued, she risks deportation.
  • The violence may include threatening to withdraw the work contract if she reports violence, sexual harassment and other abuse
  • The violence may include labour trafficking, i.e. employers with the power to control someone and make them believe they have no choice but perform a certain task or service
  • She may be isolated from others – especially if she has no friends, family or a social or professional networks established in Canada and is forced to live with her employer as part of the work contract
  • She may face language barriers
  • She may not have access to information about Canadian law
  • If she is working for a family or community that is tightly bound and isolated from outside contacts, this may impact her ability to access support or intervention. This is especially true if community members support the abuser and minimize or justify the violence
  • In addition to individual experiences of violence or abuse, women across Ontario who are Temporary Foreign Workers may experience discrimination on the basis of their status as temporary foreign workers. They also may face discrimination or profiling based on race, ethnicity, faith, language, ability, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, and class

What Barriers Can Prevent Women who are Temporary Foreign Workers from Accessing Support?

The structure of the Temporary Foreign Workers program and gaps in social service systems can prevent women who are temporary foreign workers from accessing support.

For example:

  • The temporary visa issued to temporary foreign workers means that they are often not eligible for most “settlement”-sector programming, including language classes
  • The long hours and low pay of some of the work she is contracted to do may prevent her from being able to access services during hours that they are open
  • Although there are mechanisms for reporting employer abuse, if she leaves this employer she faces at least 6 months with zero income as she waits for a new work visa to be issued.

What Legislation and Policies Impact Women who are Temporary Foreign Workers and Living with Violence?

Many policies of the Temporary Foreign Worker program, including wait times for new work visas, the live-in requirement for certain jobs, and the wait period before permanent residency, all impact women who are temporary foreign workers living with violence.

4 and 4 Rule: This new rule states that migrant workers in low-waged jobs who have had work permits for 4 years (in total) will not be able to renew their work permits for another 4 years. This applies to Temporary Foreign Workers Program, Live-in Caregiver Program and the Caregiver stream.