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.
Canada has approved less than 10% of applications to employ foreign caregivers following the revision to the caregiver program last December.
The new rules require an employer to obtain a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment in order to hire a caregiver from abroad. The LMIA is needed to prove that hiring of a foreign worker is necessary due to a shortage of locally available caregivers.
Figures show that Employment and Social Development Canada granted just 92 positive LMIAs between December and March of this year, mostly for families requiring childcare or those with major medical needs. Prior to the changes, the government had approved an average of 700 to 1,000 applications per month.
The government claims that the drop in numbers is due mainly to a decline of new applications under the program. In the four months since the start of the new program, Employment and Social Development Canada has received just 971 LMIA applications for foreign caregivers.
“There was a noticeable decrease in the number of new applications compared to previous months. A higher proportion of applications were being returned as incomplete as employers adjusted to the new requirements, and in some cases, employers had to re-advertise their positions,” said a spokesperson from the ministry.
“We are starting to see the number of applications and processing levels smooth out as employers better understand the requirements under the new Caregiver Program.”
Supporters and advocates of the foreign caregiver program believe that the government is secretly trying to kill the program by hindering the employment of foreign caregivers, and claim that the low acceptance rate coupled with delays in granting permanent residency has contributed greatly to the failure of the program, causing anguish among many Canadian families who depend on foreign caregivers.
Supporters of the program believe that foreign caregivers play a vital role in Canada by providing consistent and stable services in elder care and childcare. Canada has had a foreign caregiver program for decades, and suddenly the government feels that we no longer need them. What has changed? “Are unemployed Canadian nannies complaining that they being passed over by overseas nannies?” says Manuela Gruber Hersch, president of the Association of Caregiver and Nanny Agencies Canada.
Industry insiders believe that the increased LMIA application costs – up from $275 to $1,000 – may have also contributed to the declining numbers of LMIA applications. In addition, employers are also required to advertise for caregiver jobs on national recruitment websites, which may cost anywhere up to $500 a month.
Additionally, there is a large backlog in the processing of the permanent residency applications of many live-in caregivers. It can take up to four years for qualified caregivers to obtain permanent residency in Canada after they have fulfilled the requirement of 24 months of authorized full-time employment. The government does not appear to have interest in allocating resources to address this backlog.