‘Fix your system’: Winnipeg rally calls for more international workers to remain in Manitoba

Hundreds rallied in northwest Winnipeg to call on the federal and provincial governments to allow more international workers to remain in Manitoba.

Protesters gathered at the city’s Adsum Park in The Maples on Sunday afternoon to demand that more people get their expiring work permits extended, among other things.

The federal government announced late last year it would stop offering an 18-month extension to post-graduate work permits, which began during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month, Manitoba’s Immigration Minister Malaya Marcelino announced Ottawa granted a request for extensions, allowing more than 6,700 newcomers to stay in the province for at least two more years.

The request came after months of protests by temporary residents opposing the new federal policy. But people at Sunday’s rally said the extension isn’t enough.

“We would want more people to be included,” said Xi Luo, who helped organize the rally as part of the International Student and Skilled Workers Union.

Luo said the extension only applies to post-graduation work permits that expire in 2024, and to people who submitted expressions of interest for the province’s provincial nominee program before May 10.

People marching in a line holding signs
Organizers say the majority of people who attended the rally are under post-graduate work permits. (Arturo Chang/CBC)

He said there’s still a huge backlog for the program — a pathway to permanent residence accepting a limited number of applicants each year — threatening the status of many workers waiting to hear back.

Luo said that while that backlog is still in place, people should at least have the option to extend their stay as temporary residents.

“The premier and [Minister Marcelino] have promised to champion us, and they have helped us a lot. We would want them … to continue the wonderful things they have been doing for us,” he said.

“We would like the [federal and provincial governments] to extend our work permits and to give this province more PNP slots so that the minister can have more leeway to hold draws and to speed up its processing time.”

Luo said the system should be needs-based, not date-based. He said he would like to see the extension apply to all types of work permits expiring this year and the next and for PNP expressions of interest submitted after the current May 10.

He said the number of provincial nominee program allocations granted by the province should ideally be doubled.

‘Good enough to work, good enough to stay’

Satnam Gill has been in Canada for three years and plans to apply to permanent residence. He said he’s not eligible for the extension, as his post-graduate work permit expires beyond the cut-off point.

Gill said a lot of people who were at the rally, like himself, fear they’ll be forced to return to their own country if they lose their status.

“It affects me economically and also mentally,” he said.

“Just [want to] ask to the government to just listen to the voice of the community and the students, so that they can stay here for the long term because they also want to contribute to the economy of this country.”

People at the rally chanted slogans like “Good enough to work, good enough to stay,” and “Don’t blame us, fix your system” as they marched in the neighbourhood.

They also called for “fair draws” in reference to how people are invited to apply to the provincial nominee program, which isn’t random but based on a ranking scale.

Baljinder Singh, a permanent resident, said he wanted to be at the rally because he feels international students and workers aren’t treated justly.

“Once skilled worker started doing the eligibility to complete the pathway, government just like suddenly changed the pathway,” he said. “That’s not fair.”

Organizers say the majority of people who attended the rally are under post-graduate work permits. They say they’ve reached out to the province, but they haven’t responded to their requests.

CBC News has reached out to the province and the federal government.