On Nov. 25, 2016, Premier Brian Pallister announced changes to the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program (MPNP). Effective April 2017, successfully nominated applicants will be forced to pay a $500 fee in order to have their immigration papers processed. This new draconian measure by the Manitoban government is reminiscent of the Chinese head tax that was imposed on Chinese immigrants between 1885 and 1923. Only now, all immigrants are being targeted. The Chinese head tax was especially egregious because it singled out Chinese immigrants during a time when they were the primary reason for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway – but the primary evil is that immigrants were being singled out as a tax resource.
In response to Pallister’s actions, members of the immigrant community mobilized together on Dec. 5 at Broadway United Church to challenge the government’s new labour market strategy for immigrants. From this meeting, the Save MPNP coalition was formed.
The newly attached fee is simply a cash grab that places a financial burden on immigrant families. The Pallister government has said that the $500 fee will be used for investment into language support programs and other resources for immigrants. However, the MPNP already expects nominees in the economic class – identified in 2008 as the largest of the program – to enter Canada with a high level of English competency. But this is beside the point. The proposal is essentially to issue user fees to immigrants for resources the government ought to already be implementing with funds from general tax schemes, which newcomers will be contributing to.
However, instead of viewing the new head tax as merely an economic attack, the changes to the MPNP are a much grander attack on the immigrant community. The new fees are xenophobic and portray immigrants as a burden, linking newcomers to welfare. Yet according to Statistics Canada, in 2016 the rate of employment for landed immigrants in the province was higher than that for Manitoban-born residents. Indeed, the Canadian economy was built on the backs of immigrants – similarly, migrants new to Manitoba are hardly a net drain.
In addition, the MPNP is moving away from family sponsorship and community connection to employer-driven nominations, which will make bringing family and friends more difficult unless they already have jobs. This would not only make workers more vulnerable to abuses and exploitation in the workplace but also jeopardize the high retention rate of immigrants staying in Manitoba under the MPNP.
As is the reality with other immigrants, many are forced to participate in precarious working conditions where their labour is valued but their human potential is not. Immigrants are already treated as mere means for business interests – making public policy explicit in that statement will only further harm newcomers as they continue to be viewed as capital investments instead of people. More generally, the changes to the MPNP have ramifications not only for immigrants but for racialized workers who are Canadian citizens and permanent residents. Racialized workers are already subject to racist and xenophobic language, “stealing Canadian jobs,” as common nationalist rhetoric goes. This won’t be helped by having a government that only cares about immigrants as economic stimuli.
As Manitobans, we must act together and work together, and stand in solidarity with our immigrant brothers and sisters. If we let the government do as they please, what will prevent them from imposing another burden on the immigrant community?
On Feb. 28, the Save the MPNP Coalition will meet at Broadway United Church at 6:30 p.m. and march to the Manitoba Legislative Assembly to make their demands known to Pallister.
Anthony Huynh is a member of the Save the MPNP Coalition. You can find the group on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/savempnp/ for more information.