Moving Towards Visibility: Non-Status Immigrants and the Social Service Sector

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The purpose of this report is to share information on the Undocumented Support Network Project and key resources from the initiative that aim to increase the capacity of agencies to better serve non-status immigrants.

The intended audience is the social service sector, particularly those who work with non-status immigrants in Toronto. Though many in the sector would find this report useful, upper management are specifically targetted, to begin conversations in their organizations on how to better serve non-status immigrants using the resources provided.

Org: Portuguese Canadian National Congress and Working Women Community Centre


It is estimated 500,000 non-status people live in Canada today. There are many terms used to describe people with less than full status, including precarious status, undocumented, non-status, temporary status, etc. Each term describes different access to services and employment. The authors use the word "non-status" to highlight those with no access to services or legal work opportunities.

Serving non-status immigrants is a practical and ethical issue. It is practical for non-status immigrants to have access to city services when considering community health and safety. It is ethical from a human rights perspective. It is also ethical because non-status immigrants contribute to society and are in a situation created by ineffective immigration policies.

The Portuguese Canadian National Congress and Working Women Community Centre coordinated a 16 month initiative entitled the Undocumented Support Network (USN) Project from September 1, 2007 to December 31, 2008. This project aimed to help improve the capacity of community agencies and allies address the needs of and policy frameworks impacting undocumented migrants in Toronto by:

  • increasing the collective capacity of a network of agencies, employers and allies to support undocumented families through services, community development and policy advocacy; and
  • pursuing immigration policy reforms targeting all 3 levels of government.

The USN created a Policy Template in Working with Non-Status Immigrants for the Social Service Sector to increase the capacity of social service organizations and frontline workers to better serve non-status immigrants by identifying policy gaps in the sector when working with this community. The template is organized into the following categories:

  • General Organizational Policy
  • Service Delivery Guidelines
  • Board/Management
  • Referrals and Privacy
  • Intake
  • Files and Filing
  • Implementation and Accountability

The document also contains a practical list of Frequently Asked Legal Questions by Organizations Serving Non-Status Immigrants and a useful Bibliography for further information and research.

Recommendations and Next Steps

The project resulted in three "big picture" recommendations:

  1. Federal and provincial governments need to change their exclusive immigration policies and regularize the status of non-status peoples currently in Canada. Non-status and temporary foreign workers are upholding particular industries. If they are good enough to work in Canada, they are good enough to stay in Canada.
  2. The social service sector needs to improve its collective capacity to serve and act as an advocate for non-status immigrants. Part of this process includes adopting policies and guidelines in working with non-status people. The template included in this report can help begin this process.
  3. The social service sector is under funded and overworked. Funding bodies need to support the work of the sector and align their funding with community needs based on input from social service workers. This includes acknowledging the service needs, demands and basic human rights of non-status immigrants.
  4. Download Moving Towards Visibility: Non-Status Immigrants and the Social Service Sector in PDF format.