Published December 7, 2011 in Embassy Magazine

By Manuela Gruber Hersch, ACNA Canada

Canada’s live-in caregiver program has been successful for decades. However, changes in April 2010 designed to protect foreign caregivers and a decreased quota of permanent residence applications for 2012 have many in the industry concerned about the program’s future.

The live-in caregiver program allows Canadian families to hire a caregiver from abroad to look after, for instance, young children, aging parents or disabled people in the home. The Canadian government has carved out a pathway to permanent residency that caregivers may choose to apply for after completing a certain number of hours of work within four years of entering Canada through the live-in caregiver program.

The government has targeted allowing 8,000 to 9,300 live-in caregivers to become permanent residents in 2012. That’s down from 12,000 to 16,000 in 2011.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says that the permanent residency quota is being cut due to a reduction in demand. Yet according to many employment agencies, demand for caregivers is still high.

The perception of reduced demand has been created by changes to the program and longer processing times. Last year’s changes put much of the onus on the families hiring caregivers to pay the upfront costs of bringing them to Canada. Many families, for example some single parents or mothers on maternity leave, have become reluctant to pay recruitment fees, airfare, temporary health insurance, and immigration consultant fees for a caregiver from across the globe whom they have never met and with whom they have no guarantee if the relationship will work out. In some situations, caregivers accept jobs in rural areas then, upon arrival in Canada, leave to find a more appealing location.

Some question whether asking employers to bear the large financial burden is a hidden tactic to slowly and quietly eliminate the program. To make it more fair to families, the government should consider spreading fees out after the caregiver has arrived and it has been established that the family does in fact have care in place.

There are 29,000 live-in caregiver program permanent residence applications in the pipeline and frustrated caregivers are waiting longer to receive their permanent residence status while they are apart from their own families. It’s a different scenario from the one Mr. Kenney promised in December 2009, when he said caregivers would now have a faster and easier path to permanent residency.

Caregivers are also still waiting for the much advertised “blacklist of employers,” unpublished since April 2010. Missing too is the new information packages for live-in caregivers announced in December 2009.

To truly protect caregivers, the program needs a monitoring body to ensure that caregivers are protected and employers follow the rules. We need to monitor the program a lot better to guarantee that this very unique and highly complex program works for both parties.

Caregivers are also frustrated by the increased wait for their stage approval (open work permit) from six months to 18 months. Citizenship and Immigration Canada call centre agents tell some caregivers that the reason it is taking so long is that once they get their open work permit they stop working as a caregiver, which coincides with the feeling that the government is trying to deter families from hiring overseas.

Cumbersome and complicated

At end of the day, the program provides Canadian families a care solution for their children, elderly, or disabled loved ones. Families use the program due to the shortage of Canadians interested in this type of work. Yet, statistics show that 11,231 caregiver work permits applications were approved in 2008 and only 2,702 in the first half of 2011.

We anticipate further decline as families are refusing to risk their money and become fed up with the very cumbersome and complicated process including the extremely long processing times. However, Canadians haven’t stopped having children. The regulations of late have put the industry into a state of flux and possible hiring families have simply put off the decision until more certainty as to the fairness of the program can be redefined.

If Mr. Kenney wants to keep the integrity of the live-in caregiver program, he should look at the statistics supporting the use of placement agencies. They would demonstrate that reputable caregiver agencies have legitimate, fair employers who follow labour standards, no hidden family reunification, long-term placements, and approved applications that are not clogging up the immigration system.

CIC has reduced targets for the program in order to focus on other immigration programs. But while the live-in caregiver program is a small part of overall immigration targets, it is disproportionately important to working Canadians and Canada’s aging population and should be exempted from target reductions. It is too vital of a program to Canadian families!

Don’t we want both parents to contribute to Canada’s economy or does this government want moms to stay home? Dual-income families put more money into the economy and raise our national tax revenue base. Today you need two income earners just to have an average standard of living. We also know that seniors stop spending money once they move into a care facility; shouldn’t we support our seniors to remain at home as long as possible with the help of a private caregiver?

If Mr. Kenney intends to keep the live-in caregiver program alive, he must make immediate remedies, but, most importantly, bring all parties to the table and come up with truly balanced reform this time.

But watching Minister Kenney continue to promote his significant live-in caregiver program improvements to the House immigration committee on Nov. 24, it is clear that he seems delighted where the program is going.

We just hope the Canadian government has alternate plans for working parents and the approaching silver tsunami.

Manuela Gruber Hersch is the president of the Association of Caregiver & Nanny Agencies Canada and has been operating a caregiver agency since 1996. She came to Canada as a live-in caregiver from Austria and employs a live-in caregiver for her two daughters.

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