The Trilemma of Canadian Migrant Worker Policy: Facilitating Employer Access while Protecting the Canadian Labour Market and Addressing Migrant Worker Exploitation?

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Source Publication

Catherine Dauvergne, ed., Research Handbook on the Law and Politics of Migration (Cheltenham, UK: Elgar, 2021)


Canada’s use of migrant labour has been subject to increasing attention in recent years. The number of migrant workers in Canada continues to accelerate, and has long outpaced the number of permanent economic class migrants admitted to Canada. We use the metaphor of ‘vectors’ – or directional forces/domains – to describe identifiable forces within migrant worker policy that both occupy space and potentially influence policy direction. This approach allows us to differentiate multiple influences and to theorize their relationship dynamically – we do not posit causal relationships here, but the identification of separate ‘vectors’ allows for an understanding of policy influences in which such influences may operate separately, in tandem, or in tension at different times. Scholars and activists have documented rights shortfalls, exploitation, and abuse of migrant workers, but these issues have also been visible to varying degrees in media reports, which form part of what we call the ‘protectivist’ vector shaping migrant worker policy. The influence of this vector is evident in various measures taken by the federal government in the past ten years, during which time it has shifted from disclaiming responsibility for migrant workers’ workplace rights to adopting a standards and enforcement system empowering federal officers to investigate and sanction employers.

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