TORONTO (CCN) - A Toronto organization is petitioning Ottawa to establish a federal caregiver program that includes instant permanent residency for foreign caregivers.
The federal government is currently working on modifications to the Live-in Caregivers Program (LCP) to address a growing backlog of residency applications. The Toronto organization believes the solution to the problem is allowing all foreign caregivers to be granted conditional permanent residence status from the moment they arrive in Canada to work
In a letter to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander, a copy of which was obtained by The Catholic Register, a group called Task Force: PR Stay strongly urged the government to act. The multifaith organization functions as a voice for hundreds of live-in caregivers in the Greater Toronto Area. "Permanent residence upon arrival will better address the issues that currently plague the program, such as the growing backlog of permanent residence applications," the letter said.
The letter claims that granting this status upon a caregiver's arrival would significantly reduce the stress caused by family separation, as well as mitigate the vulnerability of caregivers by granting them Canadian rights and privileges. In most cases, foreign caregivers leave behind their spouse and dependents when they find work in Canada.
Under the current system, caregivers must be in Canada at least 22 months and amass 3,900 hours of authorized full-time employment over four years before applying for permanent residency.
Faye Arellano, member of the Task Force and former head of the Live-in Caregiver's Ministry at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Toronto, said wait times to process applications for residency can take three years. "The fact that they are considered as foreign workers, non-status, until they have their permanent residence means they're shut out of most of the benefits and services that you and I would normally enjoy," said Arellano.
In the 1980s, concerned Canadians, mostly those with Filipino roots (the majority of those in the LCP program are from the Philippines), fought successfully to have a permanent residency component added to the LCP program. However, as enrolment in the program increased a large backlog of residency applications developed, particularly over the past decade.
Despite a government commitment to process 17,500 permanent residency applications from caregivers this year, the backlog has grown from 45,000 to about 60,000, according to government documents. This is after Alexander said a year ago that the backlog and wait times are unacceptable and announced a government commitment to fix the problem.
"Live-in caregivers participating in the program came here with the promise of permanent residency after meeting work obligations in looking after the children, elderly or disabled people in their care," he said in a 2013 statement. "We need to honour our commitment to them." Alexander has said that "this year we're processing 17,500 caregiver applications from the backlog." But caregivers fear that he may no longer be committed to maintaining the residency component of the LCP program, let alone improving it.
"They are no longer considering the benefits of the LCP, although they keep claiming that it is one of the most successful federal programs for immigration/economic policy that they have in place," said Arellano. "These women are doing a very unique job. If they take away the live-in requirement and take away the PR (permanent residency) they'll end up as temporary workers or caregivers who will put up with so much and then, at the end of their contract, not all of them will graduate to become permanent residents, and I think that will be the end of them.
"They'll go to Hong Kong or Singapore, where it is much warmer and they can also get the kind of salary that they enjoy here. It is closer to the Philippines so they can see their children more. If you take away that PR component of that program I don't know if it is going to be appealing."
The Task Force wants the government to grant permanent residency when a caregiver arrives in Canada, subject to the condition that they complete their mandatory work hours. They have proposed three models for a revised program. All call for permanent residency status to be granted as soon as a caregiver lands. Arellano said Task Force has had no response from Alexander since a July 23 meeting. He was supposed to meet the group again in Toronto in September.
Task Force is getting support from Migrante Canada, a national organization representing Filipino immigrants. It said the solution isn't revamping the existing LCP but rather reinventing it entirely to grant permanent residency upfront, similar to what Task Force has suggested.
"We are urging the government to admit live-in caregivers as permanent residents from the outset," said Christopher Sorio, vice-chair of Migrante Canada.
Ottawa-based Philippine Mirgrants Society of Canada agrees.
"If the live-in caregivers are good enough to work here, they're good enough to stay," said chair Aimee Bedoso.
Alexander did not respond to requests, by email and telephone, from The Register to be interviewed for this story.
In early October he acknowledged that the LCP helps fill most of the estimated 90,000 caregiver positions in Canada.
"Canada needs caregivers," he said. But he has been tight-lipped about what will happen next, other than to say the program will have a temporary and permanent aspect.
"Wherever we go with the caregiver program, for now we have a very solid proven program with improved protections," he said.