A Tough Call: Vaccinations or Deportations - New Canadian Media
Doctor with a syringe, vaccines for migrants
Hundreds have signed an open letter calling for safe and free vaccinations for migrant workers.  Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels.

A Tough Call: Vaccinations or Deportations

Doctors and community leaders are calling for a “private” and “confidential” process of the vaccinations for undocumented workers worried they will be deported.

Lily is a long-term care worker. She is a qualified, skilled caregiver with over six years of work experience in Canada. She is also undocumented and was recently denied COVID-19 vaccinations because of her lack of status. 

Lily, who lives in Toronto, didn’t come to Canada illegally. She came to Canada on a work permit under the caregiver program in 2014, leaving her family for what she thought would be a much better future. 

She said she became undocumented in Jan 2020 as a result of a long and confusing immigration process. 

“This was to be a journey. So confusing and disappointing, I still cannot believe it happened. They tried to do the paperwork for me to get my work permit five times, waiting to hear from the Immigration Department as to what was going on,” said Lily, who is originally from the Caribbean, in an online news conference Wednesday to call for a safe, accessible vaccine strategy for migrant workers. 

The meeting was joined by leading doctors and health policy experts, along with advocacy groups. 

Hundreds of organizations have signed an open letter co-ordinated by the Migrant Rights Network which outlines the barriers migrants are facing, as well as specific solutions to ensure vaccines are accessible to all. 

Lily, the frontline worker, is one of many migrant workers in Canada who don’t have a health card either because they are undocumented or have expiring permits due to government processing delays.

One in 23 people in Canada doesn’t have permanent resident status. Many are in essential jobs including long-term health care, cleaning, construction, delivery, and agriculture. 

Registered nurse Pauline Worsfold, who chairs the Canadian Health Coalition and is secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, said at the conference that migrants should be included in the vaccine rollout, not as an afterthought, but as a “conscious decision.” 

“So my question is currently what is our goal. What is our goal, overall, for everybody in this country? It’s to eliminate COVID so that we can have safe and healthy communities. It means the vaccine should be provided for me for whoever needs it,” said Worsfold. 

Vaccinations for migrants in Nova Scotia

Currently, migrants who are from outside of Canada will only be eligible if they have a work permit that lasts longer than 12 months. Landing international students with a study permit will have to wait for a year before they become eligible.

However, according to the Nova Scotia government’s website, that eligibility for both groups is void if the person has left the province for over 31 consecutive days in the past year. 

The Department of Health and Wellness didn’t answer whether the province will be providing vaccines to workers without an MSI. 

“Those that reside in Nova Scotia permanently or temporarily will be eligible to be vaccinated when it is available for their age group. Details on that process are currently being worked out,” Marla MacInnis, media relations adviser for the Novia Scotia government, said in an email. 

The lack of “a stronger commitment” worries Halifax advocacy group No One is Illegal – Halifax/K’jipuktuk (NOII-Hfx), which also joined the announcement on Wednesday. The organization is urging provincial officials to ensure vaccines are available to everyone in Nova Scotia, regardless of immigration status. 

“We haven’t heard the province really address people without migration status, people who are undocumented, or who don’t have access to MSI, how are they going to get access to the vaccine. So that’s something that’s really concerning for us as well,” said NOII-Hfx’s migrant justice organizer Stacey Gomez. 

Ontario and a few other provinces have temporarily expanded health insurance coverage to include all migrants in response to COVID-19. 

According to the government website, Ontario has waived the three-month waiting period for Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) coverage. Additionally, the province will cover the cost of COVID-19 services for uninsured people who do not meet the criteria for OHIP coverage. 

“Together, these measures will ensure that no one will be discouraged from seeking screening or treatment for COVID-19 for financial reasons,” reads the government website.

Importance of confidential process

Doctors and community leaders at the conference all emphasized a “private” and “confidential” process of the vaccination as they are worried undocumented people avoid receiving the vaccine in fear of deportation.

“Many uninsured people with precarious status also worry of being reported to the Canadian Border Services Agency to face detention or deportation. Some, as a result, may avoid receiving the vaccine altogether,” said Dr. Danyaal Raza, board chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare, a national organization of doctors and health-care providers.

Canada deported 12,122 people in 2020 – 875 more than the previous year and the highest number since at least 2015, according to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) data seen by Reuters. 

The Chronicle Herald

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Lu Xu, Local Journalism Initiative

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