Andy Semotiuk

The Toronto Sun recently reported that as many as 100,000 illegal immigrants may be working in the Toronto construction trade.

Below is a Q & A with immigration lawyer Andy Semotiuk on the issue.

Andy, the Toronto Sun quotes one source as saying there are 100,000 illegal immigrants working in the construction trade. Is this possible?

It certainly is. I personally know of a few and I suspect pretty much anyone living in Toronto does as well. Some of these people have been here for many, many years – perhaps even ten or more.

Apart from working and paying Canadian taxes, many have contributed to the community through their churches, ethnic organizations or in doing charitable work. Many have families back home that rely on them to send money to support the spouse and children. There is the long term problem of separation from families and the inability of those who are here as illegals to do anything to correct the problem.

If there really are tens of thousands of illegal immigrants working in the Toronto area, what do you think the government will do about it?

The government is preoccupied with the removal of war criminals and regular criminals from Canada so that tackling this issue for the government is a lower priority.

As for people who are here illegally and working in construction, or illegals in Canada in general, I believe Canada needs to adopt a legalization program that should consist of the following elements:

1.  Anyone who has been in Canada since a specific date chosen by the government when introducing the program, such as for example December 1st, 2011, would be eligible to apply. Later arrivals would not.

2.  To qualify, the program would require that the illegal immigrant would have to come forward and admit before an immigration officer that he or she is illegally in Canada and provide the basic facts about his or her situation. In other words, they must self-report and not be caught in illegal status. This would encourage illegal immigrants to seek to correct their status and not waste Canadian resources trying to find them.

“The process today for obtaining a work permit in Canada is not easy and therefore unintentionally punishes those who seek to come legally”

3.  The relevant person would have to produce evidence of residence in Canada, such as phone bills, utility bills and the like. The applicant would have to show either that they have been paying Canadian taxes and are up to date, or agree to file and pay taxes on all their income for the period of time they have been in Canada.

4.  The applicant would be required to pay a fine of $5000 for having been illegally in Canada. Terms for the payment of the fine, and for arrears in taxes if pertinent, could be arranged with immigration in hardship cases, based on future earnings.

5.  Persons who failed in an application for refugee status, or who are scheduled to be removed, would be ineligible to apply, but could be considered for return to their country of origin and return to Canada through visa processing posts in humanitarian or special circumstances cases, on a special basis provided they leave Canada immediately upon being notified of the same and at their own cost.

6.  Persons who do not qualify to remain in Canada under the program but would be prepared to leave Canada if Canada pays for their return, would be helped to return to their country of origin at Canadian expense and with a one-time payment of $1000 being roughly the amount of an application for immigration to Canada provided that they agree not to apply, nor to return to Canada, for a period of at least three years.

7.  Those who come forward and qualify under the program would be issued three year work permits to enable them to work legally in Canada.

8.  At the end of three years, the workers would be eligible to apply for permanent residence provided that they have paid out their fines and their outstanding income tax indebtedness if any.

Those who failed to comply would lose the right to remain in Canada and would be required to return to their country of origin.

Does this issue make it harder for people to follow proper channels and get into the country legally?

My belief is that the reason we have this backlog of illegal immigrants is due, in large measure, to our inability to make it easier for people to comply with Canadian immigration laws and harder for people who do not comply with Canadian immigration laws. The process today for obtaining a work permit in Canada is not easy and therefore unintentionally punishes those who seek to come legally while rewarding those who come illegally. Getting the reward and punishment balance with legal and illegal factors is the key to a successful policy.

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