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January 2013, Volume 20, Number 1

Canada, Mexico

Canada. The government announced plans to admit 240,000 to 265,000 new permanent residents in 2013, including 10,000 via the Canadian Experience Class for skilled temporary foreign workers who want to settle in Canada. As in Australia and New Zealand, foreigners can register, have their skills certified, and be listed in an internet database available to Canadian employers. If a foreigner is selected by a Canadian employer, he/she can receive an immigrant visa under a fast-track system.

The number of temporary foreign workers in Canada has been increasing as the government makes it easier for employers to hire them. The federal government, which in 2012 promised to respond to employers seeking highly skilled foreigners within 10 days, waived the requirement to try to recruit Canadians if the employer was offering jobs to US workers in seven construction occupations. The government also allowed employers to pay high-skilled temporary foreign workers up to 15 percent less than the regional median wage, and low-skilled temporary foreign workers five percent less, if the employer paid the same lower-than-median wages to its Canadian workers.

During the last three years, about 35,000 Americans a year received work visas in Canada. Many work in the oil sands north of Edmonton, a city of 800,000. In Fort McMurray, six hours north of Edmonton, workers often live in barracks for the two weeks before getting two weeks off.

Some 191,000 temporary foreign workers arrived in 2011. Most can stay a maximum of four years, which means that work permits will begin expiring in April 2015. Ontario has the most guest workers, but the fastest growth in the stock may be in Alberta, where an energy-mining boom raised the number of migrants from 16,000 in 2005 to a peak of almost 66,000 in 2009 before dropping below 60,000 in 2010.

During their maximum four-year stay in Canada, migrant workers can be sponsored for immigrant visas under Provincial Nomination Programs, prompting some employers to demand payments for jobs. The government is trying to crack down on immigration agents and employers who reportedly charge foreigners in Canada several thousand dollars to apply for temporary work permits on their behalf.

There were 300,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada in 2011, including 100,000 in low-skilled jobs. The federal government in December 2011 ended "special" parental, maternity and compassionate-care benefits for the 11,650 temporary foreign workers who received them in 2011 in a bid to save C$18 million a year. Migrant workers will continue to contribute to these benefit programs, but will be unable to receive payments.

There is a growing backlash against the upsurge in guest workers. HD Mining in April 2012 received a labor market opinion granting it permission to hire 201 Chinese coal miners for a project near Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia. HD's recruitment ads said knowledge of Mandarin would be an advantage, which brought complaints from unions. Economists Herb Grubel and Arthur Sweetman argue that temporary foreign workers are subsidies to the industries that hire them, and their presence can make it difficult for immigrants to integrate into the Canadian labor market.

In response, the government announced a review of Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Programs in November 2012. There are four major programs, including the Live-in Caregiver Program and the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP). A profile of a Mexican worker employed by poinsettia grower DeVry Greenhouses found that the 38-year old father of two from Querataro earns C$10.25 an hour and, after payroll taxes, nets about $2,000 a month. This worker spends eight months a year in British Columbia.

Every year some 6,000 Guatemalan farm workers arrive in Canada under a program introduced with the help of the IOM, up from 215 in 2003. There are reports that these workers pay high fees in Guatemala in order to be selected into the program.

A Metcalf Foundation report praised a Manitoba program that allows foreign workers to choose employers within a particular sector. Employers first try to recruit local workers and, if they cannot find any, are registered as eligible to hire migrants. Migrants can shift from one registered employer to another.

Canada changed its asylum and refugee system in 2012, creating a list of 27 safe countries of origin. Asylum applicants from safe countries can have their cases heard within 45 days and cannot appeal. Countries are designated safe if their combined rejection, withdrawal and abandonment rate of asylum claims exceeds 75 percent or when the withdrawn and abandoned caseload tops 60 percent.

Canada and the US agreed to check applicants for visas against both countries databases, so that applicants for Canadian visas will be checked against both Canadian and US databases. The US already collects fingerprints from most visa applicants, and Canada will begin to collect fingerprints from applicants from 30 countries.

Mexico. There are 12 million Mexican-born US residents. With their US-born children, some 33 million US residents have Mexican origins.

The Los Angeles Times on October 20, 2012 reported that "thousands of US-born children" have returned with their deported parents to rural Mexico. The story profiled a teen whose grandmother, a legal immigrant, returned with him to rural Sinaloa to be with his deported stepfather, where he struggled and soon dropped out of Mexican schools.

Southern Mexican Indian villages have maintained their usos y costumbres (practices and customs) laws that permit Indian municipios to choose unpaid mayors, councilmen, policemen and sanitation workers from among residents. Those who refuse to serve can lose their land and houses.

There are at least 300,000 Oaxacan Indian migrants in the US, including many who are unauthorized. Those who return to their villages and serve know that, with stepped up border controls, it will be difficult to return.

Some Zapotec Indians who have not been in the US believe that their compatriots are getting rich north of the border. Since Indians who are away from their village can either serve or pay someone to serve for them, some villages see assigning migrants to do village jobs without pay as a way to tax village members earning money in the US.

Economy. Mexico has been transformed in the past quarter century from one of the world's most closed to one of the world's most open economies. Exports and imports were the equivalent of 70 percent of GDP in 2012, but economic growth slowed to an average two percent a year between 2006 and 2011, although it is expected to increase four percent in 2012. Auto manufacturing is booming.

A third of Mexicans are employed in the informal sector. In November 2012, Mexico's Congress approved changes to federal labor law that limit severance pay for unfair dismissals to one year's pay. Firms that use temp agencies to obtain workers must ensure that these intermediaries pay taxes on the wages of the workers they bring into the workplace.

The revised labor law prohibits closed shops that require employers to hire only union members (closed shops were outlawed in the US in 1947). President Enrique PeĀ¤a Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI, who took office December 1, 2012, depends on the support of the teachers' and oil workers' unions. These unions resisted further labor law changes that could weaken union leaders, including a proposal to require secret ballots to elect union leaders and to require unions to publish financial reports.