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Canada's Migrants without History: Neoliberal Immigration Regimes and Trinidadian Transnationalism



Temporary migration programmes have re-emerged as a preferred mechanism for regulating labour migration in many migrant-receiving countries in the past decade. In this paper, I consider the role of shifting Canadian immigration policies, notably the expanded streams for temporary workers, in the changing flow of migrants from Trinidad to Canada. Temporary programmes can bring workers to Canada relatively quickly, but they limit access to permanent residency and citizenship, in sharp contrast to most of Canada's earlier immigration policies. Ethnographic fieldwork reveals that Trinidadians actively seeking to make the move to Canada have little interest in new temporary work programmes. Rather, they continue to plan futures in Canada that they expect to be years in the making. I consider some reasons for this apparent refusal to submit to the new migration realities. I show that present-day Trinidadian emigrant desires and practices are deeply connected to individual, familial and national emigration and immigration histories. Trinidadians are declining to participate in new immigration regimes and are restricting their migration practices to those forms that are historically familiar and have been proven successful. I attempt to show how ethnographic approaches that take seriously migrants' agency can assist in developing a fuller understanding of the ways in which migration flows are changing. These approaches reveal what are otherwise the silences and invisibility surrounding those whose previous access to permanent migration streams has been diminished through neoliberal restructuring of migration policy. I argue that temporary worker policies disregard long-standing histories of migration and engagement with capitalist processes for people in particular regions of the world, rendering them, for policy purposes, effectively “people without history” (Wolf, 1982).