On becoming a temporary foreign worker

Michael Johansen newsroom@thewesternstar.com
Published on June 30, 2014

My sympathies lie with the foreign workers — not least because I’m about to become one myself.

What is a temporary foreign worker but someone who isn’t truly welcomed by Canada, even if he or she has much to offer Canadian society? Most people would much rather remain where they grew up, where they know everybody, where land and cityscape is familiar. Given a choice, most people stay where they were born to find work and live their lives. However, many don’t have that choice. If there are no jobs close to home, or only poor ones, people must look further afield. Inside Canada they’re called ‘migrants.’ When they’re from abroad they’re known as ‘foreigners.’ When the Canadian government keeps them foreign by calling them ‘temporary’ rather than ‘permanent,’ they become an economic sub-class.

My father came to Canada in the 1950s as an unskilled labourer. He found a factory job and settled down. He was soon followed by friends and family, including the woman who became his wife and my mother. By current rules my father might never have gained entrance, let alone the right to live here — although my mother, as an experienced nurse with a talent for accounting, might have had less trouble even if she were to apply today. Anyway, if my father had managed to arrange employment with a Canadian company beforehand, or paid a lot of money for an agency to do it on his behalf, then he would still have had to live in a precarious legal situation for several years, always in danger of deportation for any reason, or no reason at all.

Jump through the hoops

Who knows if my father would have been able to jump through all the new hoops the Canadian government is putting in the way of honest immigrants? Who knows if he would have been able to convert his temporary status into something more permanent before getting kicked out of the country? My father didn’t have to worry about that — fortunately for his descendents. Nor did the factory that needed him and other immigrants have to worry about closing down for lack of workers — unlike at least one large restaurant in Happy Valley-Goose Bay where new rules make Labrador a no-temporary-foreign-worker zone.

If there is a problem it’s not with the temporary workers, but with the program. By accepting workers temporarily, all the effort prospective immigrants could devote towards contributing to Canadian society is instead squandered on long and often futile struggles with the immigration bureaucracy. Instead of helping newcomers adapt to novel circumstances in a way that once earned sitting governments gratitude while teaching immigrants a deeper appreciation of Canadian democracy, today’s foreign workers are taught the government doesn’t really want them here. However, they’ll still come since they’ll still find something here they can’t get at home. Also, there are still companies that need them.

Which brings me to how I’m about to become a temporary foreign worker myself. I’ve been offered a job that no longer exists in Canada as a distinct position on a newspaper: copy-editor. The Jakarta Post, Indonesia’s largest English-language daily, has hired me to be one of their grammar experts. I’ll be checking stories composed by Indonesian writers to make sure they’re in clear, proper English.

Copy-editors were once numerous in Canada. The position once provided a common entrance for journalists getting into the profession. Now, Canadian journalism doesn’t specialize so much. Today’s ideal reporter not only writes and edits copy for print on paper and web-page, but also fashions it for audio and visual broadcast — and for Twitter, too. This trend produces broadly-skilled journalists, but it also lets management get along with fewer of them. If four employees all have different jobs it’s difficult to fire one, but if all four can do all four jobs, then only one is needed.

Consequently, as I’m going to the other side of the planet for a job, this will be my final column for at least a year. Thank you everyone who reads my writing. I hope to once again enjoy the privilege of filling this space with words and I hope they’ll still be worth reading. Bye for now!

Michael Johansen is a resident of North West River, Labrador