Torontonians understand and support the values of diversity and human rights. Meanwhile, undocumented residents in Toronto or those with precarious status are often discriminated against because of harmful misinformation and stereotypes.

The City of Toronto has partnered with FCJ Refugee Centre, and other key agencies, to help humanize undocumented residents in our city. It’s acknowledged that the term “undocumented residents” is an imperfect term because “undocumented” can be perceived as a person that does not exist and “resident” suggests they share the benefits that other residents living in Toronto thrive on. The reality is undocumented residents are merely without valid immigration status and are forced to live in hiding in fear of deportation. Their situations are often severely misunderstood and even worse, criminalized. This campaign strives to educate Torontonians on the realities of being undocumented in our city.

Take a moment to consider what life would be like without access to healthcare, safe work or school, safe housing, and with the constant fear of being removed from the place that you know as your home.

Here are five things you can do to make Toronto more inclusive of undocumented residents:

  1. Have conversations with your friends and family about why the term “illegal” and “unauthorized” are inaccurate and also dehumanizing – encourage and challenge your friends and family to learn more.
  2. Confront your own beliefs and immediate reactions about who does or doesn’t deserve to live in this country, and enjoy the same privileges as those of status owning citizens.
  3. If entrusted with the knowledge of a friend or community member’s lack of immigration status, ask them what you can do to help. Most importantly, always respect the privacy of this information.
  4. If you are a service provider, don’t ask about immigration status, unless it is a condition of service. Consider providing translated information about essential services (housing, physical and mental healthcare, education etc.) in other languages in order to make it more accessible, and stay informed about options in the community, to conduct appropriate referrals when necessary.
  5. Follow organizations such as FCJ Refugee Centre, OCASI, Rights of Non-Status Women’s Network, and TNO-The Neighbourhood Organization to stay informed about issues related to undocumented residents and discover ways to support their work

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It is acknowledged that “undocumented resident” is an imperfect term. In Canada, community agencies introduced terms like non-status or precarious migrant as a replacement for undocumented because most people in this situation are or were with valid documentation, but just no longer have valid or active status. For the purposes of this campaign, the term “undocumented” is still being used in recognition that the majority of people will understand the meaning behind it.

A person without status or undocumented person is a person who has not been granted permission to stay in the country, or has overstayed their visa. The term can cover a person who falls between the cracks of the system, such as a temporary resident with an expired status. The term “undocumented” can be confusing, because it is also used in Canada to refer to refugees who lack identity documents from their country of origin.

It’s important to understand that no one enters Canada without some form of immigration status. The majority enter as visitors, as refugees making asylum claims, or on valid student or temporary foreign worker visa status. It is possible for individuals to become undocumented because their status or visa expired.

Many children who have lived in Canada from an early age do not realize until they become adults that they are undocumented.

No one willingly choses to be an “undocumented resident”. Many came to Canada with the promise of work, or sponsorship, and have experienced exploitation, abuse and sponsorship breakdown.

Once a person is undocumented, they have limited or no access to essential services or supports. Their pathways to status are extremely limited, and most often are simply not there.

There are many systemic barriers faced by undocumented residents. They lack access to equitable, safe and secure housing; lack equitable access to primary physical and mental healthcare; and have difficultly accessing education at every level from kindergarten to post-secondary. In addition to language and identification barriers, they also lack access to accurate and trustworthy information, which makes them vulnerable to scams, misinformation, sex and labour exploitation, and other precarious work conditions.

Given the vulnerability of the population, accurate statistics are difficult to obtain. There have been various estimates over the years.

According to “Institutionalizing precarious migratory status in Canada”, an article published in 2009, it is estimated that there were approximately 20,000 to 500,000 undocumented people living in Canada, and according to “Undocumented Migrants in Canada: A scope literature review on health, access to services, and working conditions”, another article published in 2010, it is estimated that as many as 50 per cent may reside in Toronto.

Many undocumented residents have lived in Toronto for years, even decades. They work in essential services, pay taxes, contribute to the economy, and their diverse cultures and communities have helped create Toronto’s identity as a vibrant global city.

Take a moment to consider what your life in Canada/Toronto would be like without the option to access to healthcare, safe work, secure housing, and with the constant fear of being removed from the place that you know as your home.

The constant fear of deportation is a reality that undocumented residents or those with precarious status live with every single day. The fear of being returned to a country that they may no longer know, sometimes with a language they don’t speak, and limited connections, family or otherwise.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many deep inequalities in our society. Precarious migrants have extremely limited access to safety nets, which has exacerbated the challenges they continue to face.

  1. Remove the words “illegal” and “unauthorized” from your vocabulary when referring to people, and encourage your friends and family to do the same.
  2. Don’t ask or demand knowing about someone’s immigration status. But if entrusted with the knowledge of a friend or community member’s immigration status, ask them what you can do to help.
  3. All service providers can be allies. Do not ask about immigration status unless it is a condition of service. Respect the privacy of this information.
  4. Follow organizations such as FCJ Refugee Centre, OCASI, RNSWN, and TNO to stay informed about issues related to undocumented residents and discover ways to support their work.
  5. If you know someone who has undocumented status and is apprehensive about accessing City services because of their status, let them know about the City’s commitment to ensuring that residents of Toronto, regardless of immigration status, have access to City services without fear of being asked for proof of status through the Access T.O. policy. A searchable list of identification requirements to access City services is available on the City’s Identification Requirements to Access City Services webpage.