Gina Bahiwal – Filipina Activist
There are many ways to work/live in Canada and grab the amazing opportunity this land offers to all but being a Temporary Foreign Worker or TFW is just one of those and 42-year-old Gina Bahiwal from Leamington, Ontario, now deemed as the “Champion of Migrant Workers”, sure took advantage of that once in a lifetime opportunity. Gina came to Canada from the Philippines back in 2008 under the TFW Program and since then she worked as a vegetable packer, a housekeeper, and as a crew in fast food giant McDonald’s all until her work permit expired in 2015.
Now, it is known that since the federal government of Canada opened this avenue for foreigners to work in their homeland they have implemented the “4-in, 4-out” rule which allows the TFW to stay and work in Canada for only 4 years and after that requires the TFW to leave Canada for 4 years or they have the option to stay as a student or a visitor. Ever since the rule was enforced, many TFWs who have reached their 4 year limit has been “kicked out” or scheduled to be deported and one of those workers is Gina, whose work permit expired well before December of 2016 but even months before her work permits’ termination, she has been very vocal about the rule speaking up about closed work permits and the tendency for TFWs to become subjects of abuse, exploitation, and separation from their families.
All of which essentially made her to become the ‘unsung hero’ of migrant workers across the nation with appearances in a documentary called The End of Immigration, a speaking engagement about their cause on Parliament Hill and she even helped organize the J4MW Pilgrimage to Freedom in 2011 — a 50 kilometre walk from Leamington to Windsor, Ontario.
However, back in the third week of December 2016, the federal government revised its ruling on the matter and scrapped the cumulative-duration rule on Temporary Foreign Workers with Immigration Minister John McCallum saying in a news release, “In many ways, the four-year rule put a great deal of uncertainty and instability on both temporary workers and employers. We had the sense that it was an unnecessary burden on applicants and employers, and also on officers who process applications.”
Having her bags packed as she anticipates her impending deportation, Gina was supposed to be sent back to the Philippines on Sunday, January 14, 2017 until she received an email from her lawyer, Richard Wazana, explaining that her deportation order has been cancelled at the last minute because of a now rescinded rule. Instead, the Immigration Department will issue Bahiwal a one-year temporary resident permit that will allow her to stay and work in Canada while her outstanding humanitarian application for permanent residency is in process.
“I was screaming when I got the news. I was expecting to return to the Philippines on Sunday. Now I can unpack,” Gina said feeling encouraged “I don’t know how to react. It still feels like a dream to me.”
When news of Gina’s deportation broke, hundreds of people across the country wrote letters calling for it to be cancelled. Now, after word of the change of plans quickly spread, many called and texted Gina congratulating her for the victory of their cause and immediately planned a party for her in Leamington.
“This is a victory for all migrant workers. However, the fight is not over. Workers are still being deported under the old rules. They continue to face injustices in the system. We need to continue to organize and fight for justice”, said Gina, whose first priority now is to find a job as soon as she regains her legal status.
Meanwhile, join us on our growing Pinoy Migrant group in Canada. Click here