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Whitecourt's temporary foreign workers speak out

Bryan Passifiume photo

Whitecourt’s foreign workers are speaking out about the recent changes made to the Temporary Foreign Workers program, changes they say don’t go far enough to protect both their rights and the viability of local businesses.

Ted (not his real name,) a food counter worker from the Philippines,has worked in Whitecourt for two years.

He says the changes to the program aren’t being made in the best interests of either foreign workers or businesses who hire them.

“I think they really want us to go home,” he said. “Without us, the food sector business in this town will close. It’s a big problem.”

Like many foreign workers in Canada, Ted has family back in the Philippines. The majority of his take-home pay is sent home to support his two daughters.

Noli, also a restaurant worker from the Philippines, says that many Canadians have misconceptions about why he and his fellow foreign workers come to Canada.

“We come here to give us and our families better lives,” he said. “We aren’t interested in taking anybody’s job away.”


While rare, he said that he does encounter verbal abuse from Whitecourt residents.

One comment that he and other foreign workers often hear is that they’re only interested in working long enough to get Permanent Resident status in order to bring large numbers of their extended family to Canada.

“My parents have lived their whole lives in the Philippines,” Noli said.

“They have no interest to come to Canada, to an unfamiliar country and start over.”

Noli’s sentiment rings true with other temporary foreign workers in Whitecourt, who agree that the money they send home is sufficient to improve their family’s lives.

The rules around sponsoring family members are specific.

Typically only spouses, dependant children, orphaned siblings, nieces and nephews under the age of 18 can be sponsored by permanent residents.

Parents can be sponsored, but there are specific rules, and processing times are a minimum of two years.

While declining an offer to be interviewed by the Star, one Whitecourt TFW did say the majority of older Filipinos who emigrate to Canada usually return to the Philippines within two years, with the colder weather cited as the main reason.

“Moving to Canada is a game for the young,” Noli said.

In addition, not every foreign worker is interested in immediately applying for permanent resident status, if at all.

Korina, also from the Philippines, has worked in Whitecourt for almost a decade without applying for permanent residency, opting to instead renew her work permit every few years.

Her current work permit is set to expire in August.

The recently-lifted moratorium, however, put her renewal plans in jeopardy.

All work permit applications, including renewals, were cancelled when federal employment minister Jason Kenney put the moratorium in place.

Korina is confident her paperwork will be processed in time, but other foreign workers in Whitecourt weren’t so lucky.

While there is a 90 day grace period given to workers after a permit expires, they aren’t permitted to work without a permit.

With no income to pay their bills, Whitecourt’s Filipino community often step up to help make ends meet until their new work permits finally arrive from Ottawa.

Korina has seen Whitecourt grow over the past ten years, and agrees growth has outpaced the capacity of the local labour market.

“We’re just here doing our job,” she said. “If we’re not needed, why are they hiring us?”

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