Tom Godfrey, Toronto Sun, January 9, 2008
Federal officials are looking into an alleged immigration scam that’s sending hundreds of Mexicans to Toronto as bogus refugees so they can earn good money working at construction sites within hours of touching down.
Canadian officials said large ads are being placed by unscrupulous immigration consultants in Spanish-language newspapers advising Mexicans to come here to work since the U.S. has closed its doors. Mexicans do not require a visa to travel here.
Officials said one ad shows the Toronto skyline and boasts that Canada is “voted the No. 1 country in the world for living four years in a row.”
For a fee, the Mexicans are told who to call for jobs and accommodation upon arrival as refugees at Pearson airport, immigration officials said.
Cosmo Mannella of Local 183 of the Labourers International Union of North America said the Mexicans take away jobs from Canadians, and pose health and safety risks on job sites because of language or other barriers.
“There has been a large increase in the number of Hispanic people working in the residential sector,” Mannella said yesterday. “We need more workers but getting them this way is bad for the country and industry.”
Union officials said most of the so-called refugees go to work for small construction or renovation firms where few questions are asked.
Mannella said the union has been calling for visa restrictions to be imposed on Mexico and its members met with Immigration Minister Diane Findlay last May to have the abuse stopped.
Immigration spokesman Karen Shadd-Evelyn said the refugee system is not meant to help people find work here.
“Making a refugee claim is not a quick and easy way to enter the country,” she said. “The refugee system is there for those with a well-founded fear of persecution.”
She said only about 13% of Mexican claimants are accepted as refugees. About 5,000 Mexicans filed claims last years.
Her officials will be monitoring the system for possible abuse.
The union has signed up about 10,000 failed refugees in Toronto as members and are trying to get them status, Mannella said. He said many of the Mexicans end up getting exploited by shady contractors or undercutting others for jobs.
Union business agent Michael O’Brien said there are about 70 agents who travel to job sites and check the status of workers.
“If they don’t have papers, we stop them from working and send them home,” he said. “This is a huge problem and we have a lot of people coming and going.”
Norma Kimmins of the Ontario Home Builders Association said the housing market is still strong and there’s still a need for labour in the province.