“We should be treating temporary foreign workers as how we treat Canadians, instead of exploiting them then disposing of them.”
By AUBREY MAKILAN
EDMONTON, Alberta — An initiative by the Canadian government to review its pilot caregiver program is being perceived as a threat to its very own existence.
Canada’s caregiver program concludes on November 29, 2019, or five years after its pilot projects, composed of the Caring for Children and Caring for Persons with High Medical Needs, were implemented in 2014.
On February 9, the federal government’s Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced that it is only giving caregivers up to the set deadline to complete their requirements for permanent status or else they will not qualify.
The announcement generated criticisms from migrant rights advocates and caregivers who said that the review should respond not only to the needs of Canadians but also uphold the rights and welfare of the sector.
Temporary not temporary
“We should be treating temporary foreign workers as how we treat Canadians, instead of exploiting them then disposing of them,” said Connie Sorio, coordinator for Migrant Justice and Asian Partnerships, also with Kairos Canada.
Speaking at the forum Global Compact on Migration: The effects of migrant caregivers in Canada, Sorio pointed to the global movement of workers driven by deplorable conditions in sending countries in terms of joblessness, poverty and social injustices.
For instance, mining by big Canadian firms in the Philippines has resulted to displacements of communities whose mothers choose overseas work as one of the very limited options. She said some 6,000 Filipinos leave the country daily to work abroad.
Recruitment to Canada remains robust, as the promise of obtaining a permanent status continues to lure Filipino workers. Caregivers from sending countries like the Philippines fill the gap in Canada’s lacking national childcare and deficient elderly care, according to Sorio.
This is why the job remains a permanent necessity in the Canadian labor market and has survived more than six decades of unrelenting changes.
Canada’s caregiver program has survived revisions over the years since it was introduced in the 1950s, through the Caribbean Domestic Scheme.
The earlier program however was borne by Canada’s hiring of migrant women from the British and Western European countries who settled in Canada permanently in the early 20th century. As they were British subjects, they arrived with full citizenship status in Canada.
The switch to temporary status came when Canada started recruiting from southern regions, mostly racialized women. These women arrived through the 1955 Caribbean Domestic Scheme.
This temporary status persisted under the Non-immigrant Employment Authorization Schemes beginning in the 1970s where caregivers came to Canada without access to permanent residence.
The program again welcomed permanent status after, this time, concerted activism by migrant caregivers. This spelled completion of two years of live-in employment through the Foreign Domestics Movement, which would later become the infamous Live-in Caregiver Program.
Further changes in 2014 removed the “live-in” requirement, and also created the two pilot programs, which, critics said has made it more restrictive for caregivers to obtain permanent status in Canada.
Migrante reiterated its call for the removal of the caps that allow only 2,750 permanent resident applications in each of the pilots.
“As a result of the caps, our caregivers are pressured to remain working under abusive conditions in order to put the time in as quickly as possible,” said Cynthia Palmaria of Migrante Alberta.
Under the current program, caregivers may apply for permanent residence after completing two years of care work. When they fill up at any time during the year, the caps hinder other eligible caregivers from obtaining their PR as their applications are processed the following intake year.
The group is also proposing the repeal of the rule that has denied status to many applicants whose family members have mental or physical disability, for fear that allowing them into the country will “burden” public funds.
This April, IRCC has made changes to this provision of the immigration law allowing a higher cost threshold before denial is determined – a change, which critics have said, still fails inclusivity for people with disability.
Palmaria said the latest initiative of the government to reform the program should lead to meaningful changes for caregivers.
“In Canada, the government itself recognizes the important role of caregivers to the growth of the Canadian economy, yet, it has not made significant and bold changes to the caregiver program to address long-term issues surrounding the program and the caregiving needs of Canadians,” said Palmaria.
“Unfortunately, the caregivers are usually the ones on the precarious economic end,” she said.
The group is leading discussions among caregivers and their advocates to add voice to the ongoing consultation by IRCC in review of the current caregiver program. The last round was held on April 16 in Edmonton City.