Mainstream learns about the exploitation of foreign students… finally!

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Pradip Rodrigues

Last week when the Globe and Mail ‘broke’ a story about the widespread and scandalous exploitation of international students across Canada, I could not help but think about a recently published book called Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America by a former Wall Street broker Chris Arnade. He went across America’s forgotten communities he calls people living in the back row.

Those in the front row happen to be urban dwelling media personalities whose lives are far removed from those in the back row, in this case, immigrant communities in Canada.

To many in the mainstream media, apart from the large number of new immigrants, very little is known or written about except in the context of politics, or asylum seekers. Whenever a big story involving an immigrant group breaks, media outlets parachute journalists into that specific ethnic community to find out what’s going on. That seems to have been the case in the recently ‘broken’ story involving mostly Indian international students and business owners, especially fast food franchise owners who are in all probability share the same ethnicity. It may have been news to mainstream Canadians but in the South Asian community the exploitation of international students is an old story that has been in the news for years and gets discussed on ethnic radio talk shows periodically. Unfortunately, most of these stories never make it out of the ethnic silo until a mainstream media outlet decides to investigate.

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I am glad a mainstream media outlet decided to put in some resources to investigate this story because the ethnic media has been featuring this and many such scandalous stories but lack the resources to delve more deeply into the issue.

In the Globe and Mail investigation, 45 recruiters and immigration consultants were identified and accused of exploiting more than 2,000 people by demanding thousands of dollars for jobs in Canada. These jobs were necessary in order for them to be eligible for PR status.

Given the stakes involved, these foreign nationals went on record stating they’d paid up to $40,000 for a position in a restaurant, gas station, retail or convenience store.

The level of exploitation should have by now got the immigration minister and possibly prime minister voicing displeasure and outrage at such exploitation happening on Canadian soil. In one instance, young man’s fast-food chain employer told him he’d be sponsor for immigration on the condition he remained on call for work 24/7. Payroll records revealed he worked 40 hours a week at $25 an hour as a manager when in reality he worked 70 hours for the same pay and gave his employer cash back to cover payroll taxes.

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If this was an isolated incident, it could be shrugged off, but given that no government, Liberal or anyone else wants to do anything that would threaten the vote bank. So, a crackdown on unscrupulous small business owners won’t be happening anytime soon. Neither will there be a review of the system that is allowing in hundreds of thousands of international students that are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Small business owners who hire international students should actually all be audited and prosecuted if they are paying their employees below minimum wage which is more often than not the case especially if they happen to be South Asian.

In the old days before international students flooded the low-skilled worker category, it was new immigrants who could be found working minimum wage jobs in warehouses, small convenience stores and other businesses. In many instances, these new immigrants were well-educated back in their home countries but lacked the work experience or proper certification that kept them from better paying jobs in corporate Canada.

These days the new immigrants arriving in Canada are highly educated, especially those coming from India. They either come in with job offers or end up networking and finding good jobs relatively soon. Ironically, a large number of international students from India lack basic communication skills that they would require in order to function at most professional companies. So, although they come to study marketing or English, they are terrible at both which is why they end up driving trucks or driving customers at retail stores mad as they try to understand their accents. Indian international students are now the de facto labour class.

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This system suits small business owners, especially South Asians perfectly. Hiring desperate international students is the next best thing to owning a slave. There is a huge financial incentive to hiring international students, the immigration consultant will demand thousands of dollars from the student in order to secure a ‘job’ offer. The consultant then connects with a small business owner and a portion of his fees. The business owner not only gets paid handsomely for hiring the student but gets cheap labor as well. Such a brilliant scheme. Career colleges and other such private institutes are making millions of dollars, businesses benefit from cheap labor and these international students get to become permanent residents able to sponsor not just their spouses but their parents and grandparents as well.

The only odd thing about this is that many international students lack the education to land good jobs and those immigrants coming with foreign credentials are finding it a lot easier to land a job at a corporate firm. -CINEWS

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