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October 12, 2018

Low wages, crowded homes for B.C.’s foreign undocumented construction workers

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With numerous construction projects and a significant lack of skilled workers in B.C., some subcontractors are turning to undocumented workers from other countries to meet the demand.

Some migrants with visitor visas come to the province to work illegally in construction after they get a lead from their families or friends.

They do it for different reasons, such as to support their family financially, get a better-paying summer job, find immigration opportunities, have an adventure and learn English, or in some cases, get away from their violent hometowns.

Many young workers live in overcrowded houses, receive lower-than-average wages, and have no access to affordable medical care. They’re also vulnerable to exploitation by their employers.

Laura Best is a lawyer and co-founder of Embarkation, a Vancouver law firm specializing in immigration law.

“Having a precarious status means that they are far more vulnerable to abuse by employers because they do not have the same access to workers’ compensation if they are injured, or employment insurance if they are laid off, or can’t complain to the Employment Standards Branch if they are not being paid minimum wage,” Best said.

“They may not have options if they have to do unsafe work.”

All of them work under substandard conditions, compared to their legally employed counterparts. Companies that hire individuals without authorization can be fined up to $50,000 and receive two years in jail.

“It is very, very, rare for [Canadian Border Services Agency] to go after the employers,” Best said. “In my experience, it is far more common to round up and detain, then remove the workers very quickly.”

Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, illegal workers are issued an exclusion order barring them from Canada for at least one year.

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