Regularize status for undocumented immigrants already in Canada

  • August 16, 2023

Canada should prioritize regulating the status of undocumented workers who are contributing to Canadian society, says the Immigration Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association in a letter to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, offering recommendations on how best to achieve this objective.

There may be as many as half a million undocumented immigrants in Canada, many of whom are employed in sanitation, food delivery, construction, agriculture, health care and related fields. Their contributions are essential to Canada’s public health and economic prosperity, but their lack of status can leave them open to exploitation, abuse and crime.

Removing all the undocumented immigrants is not an option. In the 2021-2022 fiscal year, the Canada Border Services Agency spent over $300 million removing fewer than 7,500 people. And many undocumented immigrants are from countries to which Canada has suspended removals.

In addition to the financial and humanitarian costs involved in removing undocumented immigrants from Canada, there is the economic cost of replacing these essential workers. Canada is experiencing labour shortages in many areas. “It would be economically disastrous to potentially lose hundreds of thousands of workers and the associated taxes,” the CBA letter states.


Four programs

The CBA Section proposes four programs to facilitate the regularization of status for four distinct groups of undocumented immigrants.

The letter recommends that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, or IRCC, grant permanent residence to successful applicants or, when not possible, a form of temporary residence subject to indefinite non-discretionary renewal.

To avoid encouraging non-compliance or irregular migration, the CBA Section recommends that the proposed programs be open only to persons already in Canada at the time the programs are announced. The first three would use the following criteria: “Must have been in Canada when the program was announced and at the time of the application; must have resided in Canada a minimum of five years continuously with or without status at the time of the application; must not be inadmissible under ss. 34, 35, 36(1), 37, 38(1)(a), or 38(1)(b) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.” Additional criteria are detailed in the letter.

The fourth program would be a special stream for persons inadmissible to Canada for reasons other than non-compliance, who cannot be removed from Canada and who have demonstrated a long record of changed behaviour as well as strong ties to Canada. Additional criteria are detailed in the letter.

The CBA Section cautions that those programs should not be used to gather information that could serve to penalize non-compliant employers. And applicants should be allowed to include dependents, even if they are overseas, for simultaneous processing.