Migration corridor

Mexico Canada

Mexico has traditionally been a country of emigration. In 2020, Mexicans living abroad sent back approximately US$40 billion in remittances, representing nearly 4% of Mexico’s GDP. Ninety-five percent of this sum was sent from the United States, which is home to a Mexican diaspora of many millions. In recent decades Mexican migration to Canada has steadily risen, as Canada has increased the number of migrant workers in its labour force.

Mexico Canada migration corridor

The numbers

  • Metric mexico canada 01 Increase in foreign workers on temporary work permits in Canada, 1998 - 2018 x3
  • Metric mexico canada 02 Total remittances sent home by Mexican migrant workers in 2020 $40 billion
  • Metric mexico canada 03 Typical wages for Mexican agricultural workers in Canada compared with Mexico x9

Every year, Canada issues more than 30,000 temporary work to Mexicans, who comprise approximately 10% of Canada’s migrant workforce. The majority are agricultural workers recruited through the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) that has been in place for nearly half a century. These workers, 96% of whom are men, travel to and from Canada each year as part of the popular scheme that the Mexican government administers with Canadian employers. The relatively tightly managed SAWP contrasts with the loosely regulated private recruitment industry which mediates access to jobs in North America for Mexico’s migrant workers.

Outside the SAWP, Canadian employers can hire migrant workers from any country as long as they and the workers meet the various immigration requirements. The numbers of foreign workers arriving in Canada under temporary programmes have nearly tripled in the last decade. Various sectors of the economy now depend to some extent on temporary foreign workers - foreign workers made up 26% of the crop production workforce in 2017. Canada’s increasing reliance on migrant labour, particularly in low-wage jobs, has created some tension in the context of government commitments to provide jobs to Canadians. As a result, businesses have to complete what they see as a burdensome and costly Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) each time they want to recruit a non-national, demonstrating that it is not possible to hire Canadian residents for the position (this requirement applies to most low-wage jobs).

Cover Mexican migrant workers picking strawberries Quebec July 2020
Mexican migrant workers picking strawberries, Quebec, July 2020. © Pierre Desrosiers / Getty Images

Priority recommendations to strengthen efforts to ensure fair recruitment

The Mexican authorities should:

  • Revise the Federal Labour Law and the RACT to provide the STPS with explicit authorities to investigate and penalize unlicensed labour recruiters and intermediaries.
  • Substantially increase investments in the monitoring and inspection of licensed recruiters, and establish accessible and effective grievance mechanisms for workers subjected to abuse and fraud.
  • Publish information on the outcomes of inspections of labour recruitment agencies, including where penalties are issued.
  • Increase resources for consulates in Canada, and explicitly instruct officials that their priority consideration must be the safety and dignity of workers.

Canadian federal authorities should:

  • Provide increased job mobility, in particular by removing the employer-specific work permit, and expand access to residency to low-wage migrant workers.
  • Ensure that federal inspectors always interview migrant workers, without employers or supervisors present, during inspections, and provide channels for them to communicate any threats or retaliatory measures following inspections.
  • Ensure that inspectors include questions related to worker payment of recruitment and related costs that are prohibited under the TFWP; and that they hold employers accountable when workers have been charged for these costs, including by third parties contracted by employers.
  • Provide federal funding for legal aid to assist migrant workers, in particular to help with the filing of federal and provincial complaints and related processes, including obtaining open work permits in situations of abuse.
  • Carry out and publish a review of whether the policy of allowing immigration consultants to charge foreign nationals applying for temporary work permits is fully consistent with the ILO definition of recruitment fees and related costs, adopted in 2019, with a view to prohibiting such payments in the case of workers applying to the TFWP and other programmes where work permits are linked to specific employers.
  • Require licensed immigration consultants to provide information to federal authorities on all their overseas partners and make them liable for the actions of their overseas partners; ensure the new regulator has a focus on enforcement; and expand CBSA investigations into unlicensed consultants.
  • Give increased political importance to federal/provincial/territorial coordination over legislation and enforcement regarding recruitment and employment of migrant workers.

Canadian provincial authorities should:

  • Remove restrictions on freedom of association that prevent migrant or other workers from exercising their legitimate right to form or join trade unions.
  • Remove blanket exemptions from employment standards legislation that leave migrant or other workers without basic legal protections, with respect to their working conditions, for example working hours, breaks, and wages.
  • Implement licensing systems for any individual or company engaged in the recruitment of migrant workers, where these are not already in place; require employers as well as recruiters to register with the province; and hold employers and recruiters liable for the actions for third parties in the recruitment process.

With respect to management of the SAWP, the Mexican and Canadian authorities should jointly:

  • Align SAWP programme requirements with ILO standards on recruitment fees and related costs, to ensure that workers do not pay for costs related to their recruitment into the programme.
  • Allow worker representation and participation at SAWP annual meetings, in line with ILO guidance on bilateral agreements.
  • Significantly ease the ability of SAWP workers to transfer employers, removing the role of the current employer in the transfer process.
Policy summaries of Mexico - Canada