The Liberal government’s immigration plan is a blow to thousands of people — mostly women — who came to Canada as live-in caregivers and hoped for a chance at permanent resident status and a new life for their families, say advocates for the workers.
The live-in caregiver program allowed foreign workers, mostly women from countries like Philippines, Peru and Indonesia, to come to Canada and work as nannies or other caregivers.
Workers were promised the chance to apply for permanent residency after two years in Canada, which would bring more opportunities and, often, the chance to be reunited with children and spouses the workers had left behind.
The caregivers already faced a wait of more than four years for residency applications to be processed. The Harper government’s 2015 immigration plan set a target that allowed up to 30,000 workers’ applications a year for permanent residency. The new Liberal government reduced that to 22,000 a year.
And the government’s immigration plan released this week cut that target to 18,000 workers a year.
The program was revamped in late 2014, but thousands of applicants who came to Canada before the change could have to wait up to eight years to have their permanent residency status processed, said Natalie Drolet of the West Coast Domestic Workers Association.
“During that time they are separated from their families,” she said. “They’re only able to see their children very infrequently, usually only a couple of times during that six- to eight-year period.
“While they wait, the workers have to keep renewing their work permits to keep their status in Canada.
“Once they have applied for PR workers can also apply for an open work permit enabling them to do whatever job for which they are qualified, rather than one tied to their employer.”
The 2014 changes dropped requirement that caregivers live with the family employing them and created two “pathways” for workers — one aimed at caring for children and one aimed at caring for those with high medical needs.
Drolet said the strain on caregivers separated from their families for years is only part of the problem.
The long separation increases the risk of stress and problems when families are reunited, she said. Children are forced to deal with living in a new country and with a mother they have rarely seen for years.
“Those family members who are left behind suffer a six- to eight-year lag where they could be integrated into Canadian society, developing their skills, working and contributing to the Canadian economy,” Drolet said. “It’s a missed opportunity for Canada.”
Despite the lofty targets, the government only manages to process about 5,500 applications a year, she said.
Drolet said caregivers who arrived after the 2014 changes are also included in the government’s new target of 18,000 new permanent residents processed.
But their applications are being processed in just two months, she said.
“It’s confounding,” Drolet said. “Why is it that they’re processing applications under the new pathways so quickly when there are caregivers who have been here for seven, eight years still waiting for the permanent residence?”
New Democrat immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the Liberals’ plan shows they intend to continue treating caregivers as “second-tier economic immigrants.”
Nancy Caron, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, agreed that application-processing times are too long, but insisted the changes will reduce the backlog.
Caron said about 57,000 applications were waiting to be processed at the beginning of 2015, and the number is now down to 31,000.
Caron said foreign caregivers have the option of applying under the revamped program.
“Most LCP [live-in caregiver] applicants would also qualify under one of the two newer caregiver permanent residence programs and benefit from much faster processing times for their applications and we would encourage them to do so,” she said in an email.
But Drolet said the new rules set a higher bar for residency status, and many caregivers won’t apply for fear of rejection.
The Liberals talked about the caregiver program’s problems and how to fix them before the election, she said.
This week’s immigration’s changes are an “about face” from the rhetoric, she said.