Kristina Torres is a Toronto female of Filipino origin who hopes her 620,000-strong Filipino Canadian community won’t forget their roots when they cast their votes in the October federal election.
Ms Torres joins a chorus of past and present foreign caregivers, who are overwhelmingly Filipino, to warn the community about Ottawa’s waning caregivers program, which over the past 15 years has been the key immigration avenue to Canada for Filipinos.
Torres, 27 was let go by her employer in October and has since been struggling, “The government has promised to reduce the backlog, but the changes they made are making things worse. They made the promise to improve the program and must keep their word.”
Until November 2014, the old Live-in Caregivers Program allowed foreign caregivers to apply for permanent residency after two years of service. However, in December, the Conservative government replaced the old program by removing the live-in condition, capping the yearly number of applicants and raising applicants’ English and education requirements.
However, months into the new program, caregivers said the processing time required for their permanent residency has lengthened, and many are now having trouble getting a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). This certificate justifies their attaining a job because of a labour shortage.
According to government statistics, the wait time for immigrant status for caregivers has increased from 26 months in February 2014 to 50 months today.
Meanwhile, 90 per cent of the LMIA applications under the new caregiver program are rejected, leaving the impression that Ottawa is slowly “killing” the decades-old program, which offers working Canadian families relief in caring for loved ones.
Rhetoric from Ottawa about an “out-of-control” live-in caregiver program has created outrage in some quarters. Critics of the government’s approach, which include some Conservative loyalists, point out that the growing Filipino Canadian vote could be at stake in next year’s federal election if the government removes access to immigration from the live-in caregiver program (LCP), since 90% participants are from the Philippines.
“This is a defining issue for the Filipino Canadian community. This is something very close to our hearts. It is worrying us because we feel this could be a smoke-screen for changes that are coming to the LCP program. Our concern is they are going to further restrict family reunification under the program,” said Chris Sorio of Migrante Canada, an international advocacy group for Filipino migrants.
While discussing Ottawa’s planned reforms to the temporary foreign workers program, Employment Minister Jason Kenney criticized the LCP as being “out of control” and having “mutated” into a program of family reunification. At a consultation in Vancouver, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said the government wishes to “modernize” the program and asked participants what they thought of the “automatic PR” (permanent residency) afforded to caregivers under the LCP.
The program gives permanent status to caregivers after they complete the two-year full-time live-in employment requirement. It then also allows their spouses and children to join them. This is a key incentive for caregivers to choose to work in Canada despite the initial family separation of up to four years or more.
It seems unlikely that Kenney will abolish the program, given Canada’s shortage of childcare spaces and growing need for elder care. However, his comments relating to the abuse of the program have caused fear and concern.
Kenney mentioned meeting 70 nannies at a seminar in Manila who were “all” going to work for relatives in Canada. His claim however does not match with the findings of a two-year research project led by Gabriela Ontario, a Filipino women’s rights group, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. “We’re actually surprised by the number of individuals who were hired by an employment agency. The direct hires by relatives have actually increasingly decreased,” said lead researcher Ethel Tungohan, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Alberta.
More than 630 current and former live-in caregivers in six cities were surveyed in the project. It was found that 88% of the Filipino caregivers who arrived in Canada in the past five years were hired through recruitment agencies (61%) or hired directly by unrelated employers (27%). Of those who arrived more than 10 years ago, only 36 per cent came in through recruiters, and 47 per cent through a direct hire.
The right-leaning Ontario Filipino Ministerial Fellowship, a group of 70 pastors with 40,000 parishioners, has also condemned Kenney’s comments. “Characterizing LCP participants in general in such a negative light by claiming that they are using and abusing the program to the extent that it has mutated into a family reunification program is grossly unfair,” said Rev. Tec Uy.
Findings of the Nanny Study
In the first national study of Canada’s live-in caregivers, researchers surveyed 631 Filipinos about their jobs, recruitment, education, use of community supports and health. The key findings were:
- Caregivers’ average age on arrival was 34
- 86% had university education or above
- Nearly 90% of those who’d arrived in the last five years had been recruited by employment agencies or directly hired by unrelated employers.
- Two-thirds had children; about half experienced continued separation because their children had grown too old to be considered dependants for immigration.
Source: The Star