Hundreds of temporary foreign workers face uncertain future in aftermath of Fort McMurray fire

May 13, 2016

By Alia Dharssi, Calary Sun |

Many temporary foreign workers displaced by the Fort McMurray fire fear their stay in Canada is now in jeopardy.

Joann Gerebese was working at a jewellery store when she fled the city, her first instinct to run home to grab her passport and her work permit.

By the time she was on the road, she realized she had forgotten her banks cards and had just $30 in her pocket.

But those papers, which represent her right to work in Canada, are perhaps the most critical aspect of her life right now.

Gerebese, 34, a temporary foreign worker, moved to Fort McMurray from the Philippines for a job as a salesperson at Borealis Diamonds in August 2014.

She sends half her monthly earnings home to support her aging parents. The money covers expenses such as treating her mother’s heart disease.

Now, as she stays at the University of Calgary with other evacuees, Gerebese worries that she may have to return to the Philippines and “start from scratch” if the jewellery shop doesn’t re-open. “If the government sends us back, it might be that’s it — the end of my Canada dream.”

Like Gerebese, hundreds of TFWs who have fled Fort McMurray face the same uncertainty.

Their work permits are tied to a specific workplace and employer. If their workplace doesn’t re-open, they can’t work anywhere else in Canada and might ultimately have to leave.

“The first thing we hear (is) ‘What’s going to happen to our families?’ They really don’t think about themselves,” said Marco Luciano, spokesperson for Migrante Canada, a TFW advocac y group, who has been meeting with migrant workers who fled to Edmonton.

Many TFWs are the primary breadwinners for families abroad and may have taken out loans worth thousands of dollars to secure work in Canada, explained Syed Hussan, spokesperson for the Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights Canada.

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