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Deserving citizenship? Canadian immigration policy and 'low skilled' Portuguese workers in Toronto Clifton, Jonathan

Abstract

In this thesis I use the case study of Portuguese construction workers in Toronto to provide an assessment of how Canada’s skill-based immigrant selection policies treat workers with low human capital. Government rhetoric and much academic writing has presented skill-based immigration programs as responding effectively to the needs of the labour market, and as a progressive move away from the racist and particularistic exclusions present in previous policies. However, the case study presented in this thesis provides a less optimistic reading of the situation. A persistent labour shortage in manual trades, and a selection system that excludes ‘blue collar’ workers from permanent membership, suggest an immigration policy that is neither in synch with the needs of the labour market nor justly administered. Through a discursive policy analysis, I critique Canadian citizenship and immigration policy in two areas. First, policies have been built on flawed assumptions about how certain segments of the labour market function, leading them to place too high a premium on human capital. Second, workers with low human capital tend to be denied permanent membership and held on precarious legal statuses. The result is a differential access to key social, civic and economic rights depending on a migrant’s skill category. An image of ‘fragmented citizenship’ therefore appears more realistic than writings proclaiming an expansion of universal rights and the emergence of a postnational mode of belonging. The new exclusions of skill-based selection systems have not gone unchallenged. In the case of Toronto’s Portuguese community, protests in 2006 surrounding the deportation of undocumented construction workers served to visibly challenge the state’s definition of what constitutes a ‘desirable citizen’. The protests generated wide public support by engaging a traditional logic of national citizenship, arguing that the Portuguese fit the bill as ‘good Canadians’, though this came at the cost of reinforcing the barriers to entry for other groups of migrants.

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