VANCOUVER — The case of a young family facing deportation due to an error on their paperwork highlights the need for greater provincial oversight of temporary foreign workers, says a member of British Columbia’s Opposition New Democrats.
Honorato Peralta and Vanessa Tamondong arrived in Canada from the Philippines in 2009 under the temporary foreign worker program and recently worked at a Burger King in Victoria.
Their work permits expired in August, meaning they could face deportation.
The couple has a two-year-old son who was born in Canada and in April they applied to the B.C. provincial nominee program, which provides accelerated immigration for foreign workers who plan to live in the province permanently.
But Peralta and Tamondong alleged at a news conference on Tuesday that their immigration consultant knowingly supplied incorrect work locations on both of their applications and they were denied.
“We would just like to ask for a chance to stay here and (be) given the chance to be a permanent resident here so our son could have a better life,” said Tamondong, breaking down in tears.
The couple alleged the consultant put incorrect information on their applications knowing that Tamondong had a work permit for the Vancouver area, not for Vancouver Island. They told the news conference that their application said Peralta worked at a Burger King in Richmond and that Tamondong worked at a location in nearby Surrey.
Their consultant, Ajay Sehgal of First Choice Immigration, said he would never misrepresent such information and he insisted he supplied the work locations that were provided to him. He said he has obtained a lawyer and intends to sue the couple.
“Nobody would misrepresent and put their license on the line,” he said in an interview.
Peralta and Tamondong also alleged that the consultant initially asked for $15,000 in fees, but that they only paid $2,600 because it was all they could afford. Sehgal strongly denied this, saying he only charged $2,600 from the outset.
Mable Elmore, a New Democrat who represents Vancouver-Kensington in the provincial legislature, is asking the labour minister to intervene to keep the family in the province.
“They followed all the rules, they worked hard,” she said. “I think it’s very unfair.”
Elmore called on the province to create a registry of companies that have met certain requirements before they are eligible to hire foreign workers, similar to a model in Manitoba. She also wants the province to regulate labour recruiters that are operating in the province.
Peralta and Tamondong moved to the Vancouver area in July and began working at different Burger King locations. Tamondong eventually picked up some shifts at the Richmond location, but only after immigration officials visited the store and found no record of him working there.
Tamondong acknowledged that he also lied about where he had been working in an interview with immigration workers, but said he felt he had no other option.
The couple said Seacastle Enterprises Inc., the company that operates the Victoria Burger King, told them they had to use Sehgal as an immigration consultant.
Jasmin Dhillon, who works in human resources at Seacastle, said the company offered Sehgal’s name as a recommendation but never suggested they had to use him.
She said the company did not provide work locations to Sehgal. The only involvement the company had in the paperwork was to write a nomination letter for the “hard working” couple, she said.
During the period that Tamondong worked in Victoria, despite not having the right work permit, the company urged the couple to move to the Vancouver area, Dhillon added.
Labour Minister Shirley Bond said in an emailed statement that she cannot comment on any specific provincial nominee program application, but she said all rejected applicants have the option of re-applying. Bond is not directly involved in the selection process.
“All workers, regardless of their immigration status, have the same rights and protections in B.C.,” the statement said. “This includes protection under B.C.’s labour laws, employment standards, minimum wage and workplace safety standards.”