Peter A Allard School of Law

COVID-19 and its Impact on Global Migration

Jul 30, 2020

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the society in a myriad of ways. One such way, is in terms of migration. This is the focus of the podcast, “Global Migration: COVID-19 and Beyond,” a UBC Migration initiative, which brings together researchers and experts from different disciplines within and beyond the UBC community, to discuss how the pandemic is changing global migration. 

Allard Law Assistant Professor Bethany Hastie joined other experts in episode two, “Temporary Foreign Workers, Precarious Labour and the Politics of (in)Equality” to discuss how the pandemic has not only affected global supply chains and precarious labour pools, but also highlighted the importance of temporary foreign workers to the Canadian economy. 


Bethany Hastie
Professor Bethany Hastie

She particularly talks about lessons we can glean from COVID-19 and the role of migrant workers in the agricultural sector.

“… Many news stories and interviews with farmers for example, demonstrated a real concern that their whole season would fall apart, that their crops could collapse if migrant workers weren’t allowed to come and do this harvesting labour. So, the work that they are doing is necessary and it benefits the Canadian economy and they are not as easily replaceable as some might think. So again, for me, the pandemic has shone a light not only on the presence and extent of migrant labour that we rely on in Canada, but also on its value and its really essential character.”

There is a certainty – it’s not even a likelihood – that more asylum seekers are being placed in detention, in truly atrocious conditions of confinement, and it’s virtually impossible to protect from the spread of COVID-19 in those kinds of conditions.

Efrat Arbel
Professor Efrat Arbel

Episode three, “The Rights of Refugees and the Right to Privacy along the US-Canadian Border” also features Associate Professor Efrat Arbel and Professor Benjamin Goold who respectively discuss how the pandemic affects the rights of asylum seekers hoping to make a refugee claim in Canada, and how it impacts the right to privacy. In discussing the border restrictions put in place due to COVID-19 (which limits entry of foreign nationals into Canada), and its impact on asylum seekers, Professor Arbel emphasizes that under international and domestic law, Canada has an obligation to keep the border open in all circumstances. She suggests that rather than violate its obligations to refugees, that the government should utilize mandatory quarantine and such related measures to safeguard public health and safety. 

Professor Arbel also expresses concern about asylum seekers being placed in detention in the United States, due to border restrictions.

“There is a significant risk that asylum seekers or refugee claimants who are unable to enter the Canadian border will be detained in the United States. This is one of the most dangerous and damaging consequences of the Safe Third Country Agreement even pre-COVID. There is a certainty – it’s not even a likelihood – that more asylum seekers are being placed in detention, in truly atrocious conditions of confinement, and it’s virtually impossible to protect from the spread of COVID-19 in those kinds of conditions.”

More recently, in a decision delivered on July 22, 2020, Canada’s Federal Court pronounced the contentious Safe Third Country Agreement, unconstitutional. The decision will however come into effect in six months, and Professor Arbel expresses concern about this delay in an interview with the Globe and Mail.


Professor Ben Goold
Professor Benjamin Goold

Professor Goold adds to the discussion by sharing his thoughts on certain proposed public health protection measures and their impact on the right to privacy.

“One of the concerns around things like tracing apps is that if we implement them at the border or implement them nationally, when this public health emergency hopefully passes, would we continue to collect that information, would those apps continue to be used, would they be used in different ways? So, there is a real question not just about what we do in the instant case, but what the legacy of those decisions becomes. And one of the concerns those of us who think about privacy regularly have about what’s happening around COVID-19, is that whilst  the measure we may want to take now may seem reasonable, there’s a danger that they’ll persist well beyond the current situation.”

Visit the UBC Migration website to listen to the Podcast, which runs throughout the summer and is also available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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