Migrant farmers with visas harvest romaine lettuce in King City, Calif., April 17. Canada also imports thousands of temporary and seasonal agricultural workers from the Caribbean and Latin America each year, the majority on eight-month permits. CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

Editorial: Let the migrant workers from the Caribbean stay

  • October 20, 2017
Prior to the September hurricanes that devastated the Caribbean, Dominica was barely a blip on the radar of public consciousness.

But the small leeward island gained overnight infamy when it became one of the first points of landing for Hurricane Maria. The category five storm killed at least 26 Dominicans, flattened buildings, contaminated the water supply, wiped out the tourism industry and left most of the island’s 72,000 inhabitants huddling in shelters.

For Dominican migrant workers toiling in Canada, the onslaught was a news event followed from their temporary homes. Now those workers are asking Canada to show compassion and allow them to extend their stay here because, in many cases, the homes they planned to returned to in December are gone.

Their request should be granted without delay. Not only should they be permitted to stay well into the new year, but also granted work permits and helped to find winter jobs. And the same should apply to other Caribbean migrant workers who, at best, face uncertain futures in homelands that face years of reconstruction following a devastating hurricane season.

Canada imports thousands of temporary and seasonal agricultural workers from the Caribbean and Latin America each year, the majority on eight-month permits. They provide essential labour for Canada’s agricultural industry. In return, they generally receive low wages, basic accommodation and limited health and other benefits.

Most of their wages are sent home to support families who are not allowed to join them in Canada. The workers do not have immigrant status nor a shot at Canadian citizenship. They are here solely to provide affordable labour for an industry that can’t find sufficient local workers.

So when they ask for help, we should listen with compassionate hearts.

A month after Hurricane Maria, Global Affairs Canada continues to discourage all travel to Dominica. When the storm approached, people fled to evacuation centres. Thousands of them still live in those temporary shelters after 23 per cent of the island’s buildings were destroyed and another 67 per cent were damaged. Children remain out of school, stores remain poorly stocked and there are no jobs. The economy has been ruined with no foreseeable recovery.

It is unthinkable that Canada would force Dominica workers (or those from other hard hit Caribbean nations) to return to these conditions. Those who want to extend their stay in Canada should be granted an ungrudging welcome. They should also receive temporary work permits so they can find non-agricultural work during the winter and maintain a flow of money to their desperate families.Many of these workers lost everything while toiling in Canadian fields. We should help them rebuild their lives.

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