McMurray Fire Leaves Many Foreign Temporary Workers Uncertain of their Life in Canada

As the colossal Fort McMurray fire continues to damage properties and displace residents, many temporary foreign workers affected by the blaze fear their stay in Canada is now in peril.

One of them, Joann Gerebese, 34, used to work at a jewelry store. But when the fire broke out, her first instinct was to grab her passport and work permit. Soon as she came to her senses while escaping danger, Gerebese realzed she forgot to bring her bank cards with her, and only had $30 in her pocket, according to a report by Calgary Sun.

But more importantly, she soon faced the prospect of losing her right to work in Canada if her job in that jewelry store is not reinstated.

Gerebese moved from the Philippines to Fort McMurray to work as a salesperson at Borealis Diamonds in August 2014.

She sends half of her monthly earnings home to support her aging parents. Like many other temporary workers, Gerebese’s work permit is tied to a specific workplace and employer. If their workplace doesn’t reopen, a likely scenario given the grim outcome of the massive wildfire, they cannot work elsewhere in Canada and might ultimately have to leave.

Marco Luciano, spokesperson for Migrante Canada, a TFW advocacy group, has been busy meeting with migrant workers who fled to Edmonton.

“The first thing we hear (is) ‘What’s going to happen to our families?’ They really don’t think about themselves,” Luciano said.

Syed Hussan, of Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights Canada, said many of these TFWs are primary breadwinners for their families and may have taken out loans worth thousands of dollars before securing work in Canada.

“This period of unemployment really dramatically affects many people’s ability to stay in the country. It’s a crisis point,” he said.

Amid such emergency situation, the group is calling on the government to give the TFW evacuees open work permits and sought for employment insurance to be extended to them who normally are not covered.