Regulatory approaches to international labour recruitment in Canada

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada

Research conducted by Leanne Dixon-Perera. Published in June 2020.


Over the past decade, provincial governments in Canada have significantly changed the statutory landscape under which labour recruiters and employers of migrant workers operate. Regulatory approaches were developed largely in response to increased volumes of migrant workers and the reported recruitment-related abuse and exploitation that workers can be exposed to in order to come to Canada. In fact, nearly 500,000 work permits were issued nationwide in 2018, an increase of over 50 percent since 2008. The unethical conduct of labour recruiters, including charging migrant workers exorbitant fees to work in Canada has also been documented alongside this growth.

As such, this paper is intended to be a resource on the provincial statutory regulation of international labour recruitment and employment in Canada. In order to frame the comparative discussion, select international principles on fair recruitment are used as a thematic framework.

− What are the provincial approaches to regulating international labour recruitment and employment of migrant workers in Canada? How do they compare against international fair recruitment norms?
− What is the coverage and application of these laws over migrant workers? How are migrant workers and their employers and labour recruiters defined?
− How are labour recruiters and employers regulated? Is licensing or registration required?
− What protective measures are in place for migrant workers at risk of exploitative or abusive recruitment or employment practices?
− Given the transnational nature of migrant labour recruitment and employment, how is federal immigration law and policy implicated in these provincial approaches?

With these questions in mind, an empirical review of relevant statutory regulation (i.e., the relevant laws enacted by legislative bodies and enforced by government) in eight Canadian provinces was undertaken. A desk-based review of pertinent statutes, regulations, and grey material, including interpretation manuals, guidelines, and forms, was conducted between August 2019 and January 2020. Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) work permit data was examined for descriptive analysis and context. International standards and reports on labour migration, migrant worker protection, fair and ethical labour recruitment, and human trafficking were also reviewed in order to develop the overarching framework under which the relevant regulatory approaches are compared. Secondary research was supplemented with semi-structured interviews with provincial government administrators over the same time period, including both policy and operational officials to validate and clarify technical aspects of their respective regimes.

This paper focuses on what relevant laws are in place and what they ought to do. No conclusions are drawn with respect to the effectiveness of enforcement of any regulatory framework (e.g., no enforcement gaps are identified) as it is outside of the scope of this review. In addition, nonregulatory provincial activities promoting ethical international labour recruitment are not explored.

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