Dr. Amrita Hari is most definitely a crusader. She is dedicated to ensuring all Canadians (present and future) have equal rights. And she does it all with an immense amount of wisdom and compassion.

Amrita Hari is an Associate Professor in the Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies at Carleton University

Dr. Hari is an Associate Professor in the Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies but is in fact a geography expert. Dr. Hari did her undergraduate and master’s degrees in Geography at the University of Toronto and her DPhil in Geography at the University of Oxford in the UK. Through her studies in this discipline, Dr. Hari found she was drawn to the idea of understanding population dynamics and how geography influences social and economic decisions and policy making. From this, Dr. Hari began to ask important questions about how factors such as gender, race, and class effect experiences within a geography framework. Dr. Hari’s research was further propelled when she began to look at these factors of society through the lens of migration—an interest that one could say came about organically.

Dr. Hari’s academic journey has no doubt been influenced by her own life experiences. In fact, her story started a world away. Dr. Hari was born in India, but her father’s work led to their family living in a few different countries during her youth. Dr. Hari was 19 years-old when her family and her immigrated to Canada. It was an interesting time for her because she was coming from Kenya, a country that has experienced waves of political unrest. Canada offered her family a safe-haven and potentially many opportunities to thrive and succeed. Dr. Hari truly understands what it is like to be a migrant and as such, is a person who has gained a very robust perspective of the world. Moreover, as a young adult, Dr. Hari recognized how immigration and integration differed for herself and her family.

“Being a migrant to Canada has definitely informed and shaped how I approach my research. But, as well, being a woman, and a woman of colour with my own share of privileges. [Moreover], I witnessed how Canadian society accepted my parents differently than me resulting in both positive and negative experiences of adapting and integrating into a new society. All of these experiences together allow me to have a deeper perspective on the topics of migration, social issues and change, and human rights”

And so, Dr. Hari is particularly interested in Canadian immigration policies, including refugee determination, citizenship policies, and temporary visas, as examples, and asks how these policies are designed to include or exclude individuals within gender, race, and class frameworks.

Immigration in Canada is necessary—for economic growth and stabilizing social systems. Yet, Canada’s current approach to immigration can be seen to be somewhat antiquated, particularly when addressing the migrant workforce. For example, there remains a clear distinction and treatment of the migrant labour force deemed “high(er) skilled” or “lower-skilled” and Dr. Hari sees these crude distinctions as a problem because it creates false hierarchies with real impacts and discriminatory framework where policies foster and favour workers based on higher skill levels. The current framework allows for those classified as “high(er) skilled” to follow a pathway that allows for permanent residence status and eventually citizenship.

Unfortunately, it’s a different story for migrants deemed as “lower-skilled.” This group of workers are particularly vulnerable since there is no systematic monitoring to ensure their rights are protected. As a temporary migrant worker, one is limited to one employer, does not have access to any benefits within Canada, nor are they provided access to a pathway to permanency within the country (with only very few exceptions). Moreover, Dr. Hari suggests that this can lead to exploitation, as many workers experience poor working conditions and unfair treatment from employers.

Dr. Hari recognizes that immigration is a contentious topic because it comes up against nationalism and identity. Yet, Dr. Hari believes that Canada can’t have it both ways. The country relies on seasonal migrant workers to fill a labour gap, but at the same time is unwilling to create a more equitable approach to policies around this temporary labour force.

“It’s a question of pathway—who has a pathway to permanence and who doesn’t? It’s a barrier because under the current Canadian policy “skill” is defined in a very limited way and excludes a number of workers that contribute to the economy but don’t fit the requirements of education and work experience.”

Dr. Hari directs her research to better understand the trends and patterns that exist in the current Canadian immigration system, and ultimately provides guidance, understanding, and solutions to mitigate discriminatory approaches and create opportunities to open pathways for all migrants to explore permanency. But more so, Dr. Hari wants her research accessible beyond the academic community so that different levels of government and immigrant communities can be part of the dialogue of change. Dr. Hari’s primary goal is to drive Canadian policy to become more inclusive and considerate of all human rights. “It’s dialogue that needs to happen. What is often happening is migrant workers are seen as instruments that are serving the economy, rather than as people who have rights, needs, and desires.”

What’s more is that Dr. Hari believes that if you remove barriers, it will have a positive effect: “Take away precarity and one can excel and do much better.”

A passionate academic, Dr. Hari is always interested in broader questions and further developing her research expertise. As such, Dr. Hari has joined forces with other faculty across Carleton to establish the Labour Force Barriers Research Group. This interdisciplinary collaborative research group is fundamental to moving research in the right direction and brings Carleton’s faculty and students together generating an arsenal of experts and creating collaborations to help solve grand challenges facing the Canadian workforce. Recognizing that labour issues require a multipronged approach, Dr. Hari’s excited to be a part of this group, with a current collaboration with Dr. Luciara Nardon from the Sprott School of Business to explore and understand the labour market barriers and outcomes for newcomers to Canada and how their experiences intersect with their gender, race, and class identities.

The formation of collaborative work and research happening at Carleton is a wonderful infusion of smart adaptation to an ever-changing world. Dr. Hari has that passion to be a part of this—a social advocate fighting for real social and political change. She is a person who believes that everyone has the right to fair and equitable treatment and recognizes that through her influence and research, she can, indeed help. It is people like Dr. Hari: smart, compassionate, and devoted, that Canada—and Carleton University—can be proud to call their own.

Friday, April 10, 2020 in
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