In the summer of 2010, the UK embarked on a strange economic experiment.

Britain, then in the grip of a post-crash recession, had just elected a new government led by the Conservative party. In his first budget, the Tory finance minister, George Osborne, reeled-off a litany of cuts: public sector pay would be frozen, pensions reformed, disability and housing benefits slashed, and a raft of progressive tax credits abolished. In total, more than £30bn ($50bn CAD) would be stripped from state expenditure every year until 2015.

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According to a batch of recent data, the Canadian economy is performing exceptionally well at the moment: nearly 80,000 new jobs – many of them full-time – were created in November; unemployment is at its lowest level in a decade; average wages for permanent employees are rising steadily; and, at 3 percent, Canada’s GDP has grown faster in 2017 than that of any other G7 country.

But there’s one group, in particular, that doesn’t seem to be enjoying the benefits of this boom: immigrants.

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One recent Friday evening I drove with a man called El Tigre to a vegetable farm on the outskirts of Vancouver. El Tigre—whose real name is Raul Gatica—is a political refugee from Mexico who now runs the Migrant Workers’ Dignity Association (MWDA), a not-for-profit body set-up to represent the interests of foreign labourers in BC. He was given the nickname by the workers at some point, but he can’t remember when or why. “Maybe it’s because I’m small but brave and formidable,” he told me. “I don’t know. Something like that.”

At the farm, Raul introduced me to a dozen or so labourers, most of whom were also Mexican. Their stories were all the same. The work is backbreaking and a single shift can last for up to 12 hours. They live on-site in cheaply constructed housing units. The pay is abysmal. The employers are bullying and punitive. They felt isolated, invisible, and abused. “We want the same rights as Canadians,” one guy said, as he lifted bundles of lettuce and pak choi from the earth. “It’s a simple thing to ask.”

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This is what it took for me to secure temporary residence and the right to work in Canada: I applied for a visa; a few weeks later my visa was approved; a few months after that, I arrived in Vancouver, the city I am now, tentatively, beginning to call home.

And that’s about it – the sum total of a process otherwise known for its impersonal bureaucratic drudgery. There was no intrusive background check, no last minute border interrogation, no attempt, at any stage, by the Canadian authorities to discourage me from moving to a country that I had never previously set foot in.

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