"It’s going to be an interesting season,” says Evelyn Encalada, a member of advocacy organization Justicia for Migrant Workers, as she drives out of a parking lot in Leamington, Ont. during an early scene of Min Sook Lee’s new documentary, Migrant Dreams. The small southwestern Ontario city is a temporary home to nearly 7,000 people who come to Canada for periods of eight months to four years at a time to work in the area’s massive agricultural industry under the country’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
Among them is a group of Indonesian workers who say they are being exploited by recruiters who have charged them exorbitant fees in exchange for setting up their jobs in Canada. Their stories were captured by Lee in Migrant Dreams which launches on TVO Wednesday evening. Here are some of the stories of the people you’ll meet* in the documentary, and where they are today as told by Lee.
Nanik entered a deal with a recruiting agent to pay $7,000 to set her up with a greenhouse job in Leamington. Originally from Indonesia, she came to Canada to earn money to send to her family in hopes of paying for her children’s education and improving their quality of life.
“I thought that coming to Canada would make my life a lot better. But the deductions are a lot more than they said they would be. Every week 15 per cent of my cheque goes to the recruiter for the loan, another 15 per cent goes to the recruiter for rent, then another $30 a week goes to the employer, also for rent.”
Today, Nanik continues to support her children and family in Bali with her work in Canada. Like every migrant worker, she is allowed to work for up to four years. Her work permit expires in February 2017, and she has plans to return home.
Rahmi and Dwipa
Rahmi is Muslim and Dwipa, a transgender man, is Hindu. After working in the same greenhouse, the two fall in love and decide to get married in Canada: such a marriage would not be allowed back home in Indonesia. Later on, Dwipa’s work contract is up for renewal. Despite being promised by his employer that the paperwork for renewal will be completed, he is left in the lurch when the company does not make good on its word — and doesn’t notify Dwipa of the expired papers until two weeks after the fact.
Rahmi: “The recruiter is from my father’s side of the family. I think of him like an older brother, because I have no family here besides him. My fear was that he would tell my family [about the marriage], and that’s what happened. My mom fainted. He sent them pictures.”
Dwipa: “My family already knows that I got married. But they don’t know that we have different religions.
Rahmi: “Both of us are the same, lying to them.”
Dwipa: “Maybe someday we’ll eventually tell them.”
Today, Dwipa and Rahmi have been married for almost two years. Dwipa, alongside the other workers who lost status due to the negligence of their employer, are pursuing a civil claims suit against their former boss. The employer is offered a settlement that has yet to be accepted.
Umi sends money saved from her greenhouse job to support her mother back home. During her work contract she moves out of the company-controlled housing for a cleaner, more affordable apartment, which upsets her recruiter. Her work hours are cut back in retaliation.
“My mother isn’t from a rich family. She taught me not to rely on sympathy from others. ‘You have to work hard, because money doesn’t fall from the sky.’ She’s relieved that I’m here in Canada. The money I make here is to help her out. I have a hard life now, but I have plans for my future. I won’t stay in Leamington forever. I have to work hard to pay off my debt and to save something.
“They keep asking for my passport. I’m worried that once I give them my passport, they’re not going to renew my work permit and instead put me on a plane home. That’s what I’m worried about. They said if I don’t have my passport with me, if immigration comes, I’ll be arrested and sent home. They said my original passport must be held by the company. Not doing so endangers the company. What does the company want my passport for?”
Due to ongoing concerns about her status, Umi was unable to provide information about her current circumstances.
Editor’s note: In both this article and the documentary, last names of sources have been withheld for privacy.
Watch the documentary:
Learn more about the making of Migrant Dreams, and the state of migrant labour in Canada today.
May we have a moment of your time?
Our public funding only covers some of the cost of producing high-quality, balanced content. We depend on the generosity of people who believe we all should have access to accurate, fair journalism. Caring people just like you!
Get Current Affairs & Documentaries email updates in your inbox every morning.