A study by Luin Goldring (York University) and Patricia Landolt (University of Toronto) entitled “The Impact of Precarious Legal Status on Immigrants’ Economic Outcomes” was published by the IRPP (Institute for Research on Public Policy) on October 23, 2012.

According to the IRPP press release, Goldring and Landolt found that  Immigrants with precarious legal status – for example, temporary foreign workers – often end up in precarious work situations that undermine their economic prospects. Moreover, these effects are long lasting, even for those who subsequently become permanent residents. Given recent major changes in Canada’s immigration system, such as large increases in the number of temporary foreign workers and new pathways to permanent residence, this finding has important implications.

A summary of this study can be found below (reprinted with permission from the authors) and the full study can be downloaded from the IRPP website.

The authors presented their finidngs at a workshop sponsored by IRPP at the Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto, on November 29, 2012. Monica Boyd (University of Toronto) and Debbie Douglas (Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants) were the commentators for this event.

Summary of study

The incorporation of immigrants into Canadian economic life is a complex process with long-term consequences for immigrant workers, their families and Canadian society as a whole. This study calls for a reframing of the study of immigrant economic incorporation to pay closer attention to the relationship between migration status, legal status trajectories and employment outcomes, measured by job quality and not just by employment rates and earnings.

Luin Goldring and Patricia Landolt’s conceptual framework redefines the migrant labour force to include permanent and temporary workers. It also recognizes that there are various legal status pathways that lead to migrants’ long-term settlement in Canada. The authors use their original Index of Precarious Work to measure economic incorporation in terms of job quality, and they consider migrants’ legal status as an explanatory factor. Tracking job quality and changes in legal status over time allows for an analysis of the effects of policy and labour market dynamics on newcomers.

The concepts of precarious work and precarious legal status are central to this study. Precarious legal status is the situation of all nonpermanent residents, authorized and unauthorized. Using original data from a sample of 300 Latin American and Caribbean immigrant workers in the Greater Toronto Area, including information on job quality and legal status over time, the authors present findings from quantitative and qualitative analyses. Based on their quantitative analysis, the authors find that initial job quality and legal status upon entry are significant predictors of current job quality. Transitioning from precarious to secure forms of legal status did not protect respondents from remaining in jobs that were significantly more precarious than those of people who entered with the relatively secure status of permanent residence.

The qualitative research shows how early precarious legal status can contribute to migrants settling for precarious work and getting stuck in low-paying jobs for a long time, even after a change to secure legal status. The authors’ research identifies two broad factors that help explain the long-term effects of precarious status: employer practices that exploit workers’ precarious status to erode, violate or evade employment standards; and employees’ need to spend time and resources on efforts to adjust their status, which sometimes results in their losing money.

The authors conclude by identifying ways of mitigating the effects of precarious status on immigrant economic outcomes and social inequality, including replacing probationary forms of temporary migration with permanent residence, faster transitions to secure legal status and permanent residence, open work permits for temporary migrant workers, improvements in labour market and workplace equity, and broader access to settlement services. They also call for informed public dialogue on the current transformation of the national immigration system, including the increased role of employers in the selection of immigrants.