Escaping abuse and protecting your immigration status
Posted on - Sep 23, 2019
By Catherine Sas, Q.C & Anupama Nair, Paralegal
Life in Canada can be challenging for temporary residents who are suffering abuse at the hands of their Canadian employers or loved ones. Many vulnerable individuals in these situations are afraid to speak out about the abuse they are suffering because they do not want to compromise their own immigration status in Canada. Fortunately, the Canadian government announced new initiatives in May 2019 for foreign workers and accompanying spouses to escape from abusive situations while legally maintaining their immigration status.
Temporary foreign workers who hold “closed” work permits that restrict them to work for only one specific employer often feel that they are fully dependent on their employer for maintaining their legal immigration status in Canada. Since they are unable to legally work for anyone else, many workers quietly put up with harassment, abuse and poor working conditions out of a genuine fear of losing their job, work permit and, ultimately, not being eligible to apply for permanent residence.
Acknowledging that there are vulnerable foreign workers in Canada working under abusive conditions, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced this spring that they will begin accepting open work permit applications as of June 2019 from foreign workers who are inside Canada and working on closed work permits if they can demonstrate that they are experiencing abuse or enduring intolerable treatment in the workplace.
This open work permit for vulnerable workers is a one-time permit intended to allow the worker to escape from their abusive work situation. It is not a permanent solution and the work permit cannot be renewed. Although a temporary solution, the open work permit will allow the foreign worker to leave their abusive situation and to use the time granted by the new work permit to find alternative employment in Canada or to make the necessary preparations to move back home.
As Vancouver immigration lawyers we also encounter clients who are relying on being sponsored by their spouse for their permanent residence and without their spouse’s support they would be left with no option but to leave Canada. Vulnerable spouses with precarious immigration status, especially those who face domestic violence and abuse from their sponsor, might understandably be afraid to seek help in order to avoid jeopardizing their pending application for permanent residence. They may not have valid status in Canada or might be part of a refugee application filed by their spouse, for example. These fears are made worse by disinformation that their permanent residence is conditional and subject to the mercy of their abusive sponsors. With new legal measures, IRCC has sought to incrementally provide relief to victims of family abuse.
Previously, spouses who had been successfully sponsored for permanent residence could have their permanent resident status revoked if they left their sponsors within two years of the successful sponsorship application. This “conditional permanent residence” requirement was eliminated in April of 2017 by the Liberal government, primarily due to legitimate concerns that many people were remaining in abusive relationships solely out of fear of losing their permanent resident status.
A further initiative was announced in May 2019 to assist any foreign national living in Canada and suffering physical, sexual, psychological or financial abuse or neglect from their spouse or common-law partner if they are awaiting a decision on a permanent residence application that is dependent on them maintaining their spousal relationship or even if they have been misled that an application has been filed or promised that they would be included in a future application.
Spouses in abusive situations can now apply for a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) to maintain legal status in Canada. It is not a requirement for the applicant to testify against the sponsor to get this TRP, nor does the applicant need to pay an application fee. Their children can also get this permit and, if their situation warrants it, they can get another TRP to further extend their stay. Once they receive their TRP they may be eligible for health care benefits under the Interim Federal Health Program (IHP) and seek help from support organizations if they do not already have provincial or private medical insurance coverage.
Applicants who have already left their spouses due to abuse or those with their permanent residence application withdrawn by their sponsor are also eligible to apply for a TRP. Even those temporary residents who are dependent on their abusive spouse on a permanent residence application filed under a category other than spousal sponsorship are also eligible to apply for a TRP at the discretion of the immigration officer.
Similar to the open work permits issued to vulnerable foreign workers, the TRP for spouses in abusive situations is not intended to be a permanent solution. After obtaining a TRP the victim of abuse or family violence may choose to apply for permanent residence under Humanitarian and Compassionate (H&C) grounds. As immigration lawyers we advise clients to be honest in their H&C applications so that IRCC officers can fully appreciate their unique personal circumstances and hardships and their eligibility to be considered for permanent residence despite their ineligibility to apply under other immigration programs.
Whether you are a temporary foreign worker or a dependent spouse, victims of abuse should be aware of IRCC’s initiatives that offer expedited processing of open work permits and TRPs to help them leave abusive relationships without fear of immigration consequences. Through these initiatives IRCC has sent the strong message that abuse is not to be tolerated and that there is relief available to those who have been suffering quietly for too long for fear of maintaining their immigration status in Canada.
Catherine Sas, Q.C. is a Vancouver immigration lawyer at Sas & Ing Immigration Law Centre in Vancouver, BC Canada. Catherine has been practicing law for over 30 years, and has been voted Vancouver’s Best Immigration Lawyer by the Georgia Straight newspaper for 9 consecutive years.
To learn more about immigrating to Canada, becoming a permanent Canadian resident or bringing your family to Canada, email Catherine Sas or call her at 1-604-689-5444.
Related Topics: family, Immigration, worker