UBC Graduate Research

To Bite the Hands that Feed : Control and Competition in Temporary Foreign Worker Programs amidst a Pandemic Sevilla Valenzuela, Victor


Canada’s continuous reliance on temporary foreign workers to address its labour shortage and maintain its competitive advantage has resulted in a seasonal transnational workforce characterized by its precarious living and working conditions, cumulative legal disenfranchisement based on the lack of permanent status, and vulnerability to the ongoing pandemic. Despite the common portrayal of the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) as a ‘model for migration management’ by governments and growers, a large body of academic publications has studied their precarious conditions in an attempt to explain the seeming contradiction between a highly-exploited workforce and the steady growth of willing participants. This project examines the exploitative practices embedded in the cycles of transmigration through a series of individual interviews with SAWP participants, scholars, and government officials. The central argument is that the differential treatment of migrant and citizen workers lies at the heart of the former’s precarity. It stems from the paradoxical promotion of human rights at the macro-level, while relying on an exploited workforce at the micro-level. The program creates mechanisms that keep workers in a state of continuous marginalization despite decades of participation in the program. The legal, subtle, and overt mechanisms that maintain workers in a continuous state of control and competition are among the key findings of this project. This project challenges the idealization of the SAWP by analyzing the main beneficiaries, its shortcomings, and its projected future. It presents a unique opportunity to reimagine temporary foreign worker programs and methodological nationalism in a globalized context.

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