On Immediate Permanent Resident Status for Caregivers: Kenney non-committal
But caregivers and advocates still pushing for main demand: Permanent resident status on arrival
TORONTO – The call for landed status for caregivers upon arrival was the recurring message of present and former caregivers and their advocates throughout the recent roundtable consultation with Jason Kenney, Minister of Immigration, Citizenship and Multiculturalism.
Kenney, however, remained non-committal on the issue during the discussion, while insisting on the need to balance the interest of caregivers and employers, a position he laid out at the start of the meeting, and which he continued to emphasize during the media interview following the roundtable held April 26 in his downtown Ministers’ Regional Office.
The meeting was attended by at least three caregivers currently in the Live-In-Caregiver Program, and more than a dozen community leaders representing various organizations, including the Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ), the recently-formed Grassroots Hub (G-Hub), the Caregivers Support Services, the Caregivers Resource Centre, Independent Workers Association, the Philippine Independence Day Council (PIDC), Gateway Centre for New Canadians, two lawyers, and two community media representatives.
CASJ is a coalition of over 27 organizations and more than 200 individuals specifically mandated to advocate for social justice concerns in the Filipino community, including changes to the Live-in-Caregiver Program, one of its three priority issues. G-Hub is a network of independent community and migrant workers organizations, coalitions and individuals informally linked, through the initiative of the Filipino Catholic Missions of the Archdioces of Toronto, for the cause of helping caregivers in crisis and advocating for their rights and welfare.
With Kenney were his staff and Joe Oliver of the Conservative Party.
Positions on the LCP issue
At the meeting, ten of the 17 participants from the Filipino community who had the chance to speak and present written submissions, called for landed status for caregivers upon arrival. Kenney was non-committal to this position, as he cautioned against making any changes that would lead to “unintended consequences,” and emphatically suggested that solutions should be balanced for both the employer and the caregivers.
In his informal introductory remarks before the Filipino delegation, Kenney at the outset emphasized the importance of the Live-in Caregiver-Program: Caregivers “help families who need help” while at the same time, Canada is able “to provide generally decent jobs to caregivers” and that they eventually become permanent residents.
Kenney then went on to enumerate options he knew were being considered to deal with the program, and gave his opinions about each of them.
On the scrapping of the program: “I know there is a small minority of people who want the program shut down. This is not an option I am looking at…it is a mistake.”
On some other options: “(These) would be prohibitive…generally speaking, caregivers would not qualify as caregivers under our point system as federal skilled workers… as regular temporary foreign workers, they would not have the pathway to permanent residency.”
Defending the LCP, Kenney said: “I think that the general concept of the program is very good, the intention of it is good and many people have benefited from it.”
He continued: “Having said that, I also recognize that there are flaws, that there have been abuses. And that people’s rights have been violated.”
Kenney then cited problems encountered by caregivers: “unfair employers, operational challenges in terms of processing time… deportations from the airport of people who have been victims of fraud…”
Because of these concerns, Kenney said he had asked his department to review the program so as to improve it.
At this point, Kenney advised the delegation that in making suggestions to change the program, people should take into account both the interest of the caregivers and the employers. He also asked the delegation to be mindful of the policy changes they suggest so that they would not lead to “unintended consequences.”
Elaborating with an example, he said: “One of the ideas that’s on the table which I am willing to consider is to allow for the affordability of the work permits between different employers with greater flexibility for caregivers but some people are concerned that if that happens, the employer spends a great deal of money and time investing in bringing the caregiver to their family, if that person then leaves three weeks later, and if that happens on a widespread basis, it could potentially kill the program and completely undermine it as a point of access to permanent residency for caregivers.”
“So we have to be mindful, I have to be mindful as Minister that any policy changes we have could have unintended consequences,” Kenney said, throwing the challenge to the delegation on how to “make those changes that better protect the caregivers while maintaining the integrity of the program, and that’s why I say not to end the program, but to improve it.”
After the brief prayer and introduction, the first presentation was made by Catherine Manuel, a live-in-caregiver, who is a member of the Caregiver Support Services. Reading her story about how she was a victim of a recruitment agency and an abusive Canadian employer, the mother of two told of how she opted “to work overseas to support and provide a good future for my children.”
Manuel first worked for 12 years as a domestic worker in Hong Kong, but was enticed to work in Canada by a Canadian recruitment agency that promised to find her a legitimate employer where she could work as a caregiver in exchange for signing a loan agreement at 12 percent interest with a financing company also owned by the agency owner.
Upon arrival in Canada, Manuel realized she was duped by the agency owner as she found herself toiling for an abusive innkeeper who made her work cooking and serving guests, cleaning the entire 11-bedroom facility doing the laundry, and gardening. That arrangement compromised her immigrant status as her employer’s proposal was for her to take on the inn-keeping job with the pretext of caring for children of the inn guests — an arrangement she had refused. (See story on page 13) Her recommendations to the Minister included among others, “the granting of landed status upon arrival so that caregivers are accorded with respect and dignity just like other workers in Canada.
Another caregiver, Maribel Dumapil Beato, had come prepared to tell her story, but was told by the minister’s staff only one caregiver could speak. She told this reporter she was disappointed that more time was given to the voices of others and not the caregivers themselves. She however still submitted her letter to the Minister, where she had outlined three recommendations, the first being granting “immediate permanent residence status to workers coming to Canada” under the LCP. “Taking care of children, the elderly an the disabled are valuable and important jobs. It is unfair and unjust that we are not provided with the rights and respect that we deserve.” she said (See her story on page 12.)
Kenny requested for the written notes.
Longtime advocate speaks
Pura Velasco, organizer of Caregiver Support Services, and a former caregiver herself who has been advocating for two decades for the rights of caregiveres, emphasized to Minister Kenney that the live-in requirement without status is the “heart of the problem” of the program. “Even if the provincial government tries its best to implement the employment standards, without status in a live-in condition, the confidence of the caregivers to assert their right to basic employment standards is diminished,” she said.
Kenney responded that situation was very clear to him.
Velasco added that in her written submission to the Minister, she had indicated that she and caregivers would like to work with Minister Kenney and his staff closely, just like what they are doing now with the provincial government. “We have lots of creative ideas in resolving the issues of the caregiver program,” she said, but which would be difficult to thoroughly discuss in a dialogue setting. To this suggestion, the Minister informed the group of the presence of a staff in his Ministry who could also help.
Velasco further took issue with the Caregivers Association composed of employment agencies and those in the immigration consultancy business, whom the minister had met with the previous day, especially with the proposal for collecting placement fees from the caregivers. This proposal, she said, is totally against what caregivers and advocates have long been campaigning against. She said the practice of collecting placement fees by individuals and employers should be banned, a demand that the provincial government has already indicated it will support.
The settlement issue
Julius Tiangson informed the Minister of the settlement issues affecting live-in-caregivers and other temporary foreign workers and other newscomers are about economic integration. He spoke of their already limited economic options becoming even narrower through the years, especially when families join them. For this reason, he informed the minister, his agency, as a settlement provider organization, has already submitted proposals based on a number of calls for proposals by Kenney’s department. “ He then requested the Minister to look into a copy of the full proposal which he turned over to Kenney at the meeting.
At this point, Kenney responded to Velasco’s recommendations. Following the series in the Toronto Star, he said he had discussions with the provincial minister and that they had agreed that the Ontario government and federal government will collaborate more closely on issues relating to the live-in-caregivers program. He also said they will consider the Manitoba law with respect to the recruitment agencies.
Kenney commented on Velasco’s and the caregivers’ recommendation for permanent residency status. He said that the reason why caregivers are given access to Canada more quickly than regular applicants for permanent residency as under the federal skilled program is because “if we were to make live in caregivers automatic residents, then we would have a very strong policy argument that we would have to put them in the same queue as all of our permanent resident applicants which take five to six years to process rather than one to two years. So there would be probably huge disadvantages for the employers… the program won’t work anymore because the people can’t wait… caregivers don’t have PR status but they have the advantage of being able to come to Canada more quickly.”
“I am not saying I disagree (with the PR status option),” but he clarified he wanted to throw out those ideas as he expected that his officials would raise the same concerns. He then invited Velasco to respond at some point later.
Ramon Grajo presented G-Hub’s position consisting of seven recommendations covering short-term measures considered “doables,” while calling for “the granting of immediate landed immigrant status to those coming in as Live-in-Caregivers as a long term measure.” Among these recommendations were making the work permit occupation-specific rather than empoyer-specific; counting actual hours rather than number of days of employment; granting a moratorium on departation of live-in caregivers upon arrival; passing the proposed Juana Tejada Law; and allowing caregivers to avail of EI and social services.
The Minister commented that the recommended measures made it much easier for him to think of possible policy options.
He pointed out that caregivers may not qualify in the point system of the skilled workers program, to which Velasco had responded that caregivers were in fact skilled workers, and have to pass the educational requirements of the program which are more rigorous than the previous foreign domestic workers program. She emphasized that caregiving jobs require skills which caregivers already have.
Lawyer Rafael Fabregas stressed the importance of the proposed Juana Tejada Law, while also supporting the call for landed status for caregivers.
Lawyer Deanna Santos emphasized that caregivers be granted permanent resident status at the outset, and that the mandatory live-in requirement be removed as these two features of the LCP are the root causes of the many problems with the program.
Others expressing support to this position were Terry Olayta and Melfa Bataclan of Caregivers Resource Centre; and Connie Sorio of IWA.
Hermie Garcia, CASJ president, emphasized that seeking permanent residency status for caregivers, and the removal of the live-in requirement and the employer-specific feature are not only for caregivers, but will also benefit Canada. (See page 9.)
“The good that we do these caregivers, by treating them as equals…is not only good for them. It is good for Canada, for our children, for our elderly, for our sick family members,” he concluded. (From submissions, taped records and staff interviews.)