Growing frustration over family separation

News & Features Jun 28, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Caregivers’ long wait for permanent residence

Imelda Fernandez Domingo (middle) with her husband and son

Imelda Fernandez Domingo (middle) with her husband and son

By Dyan Ruiz

A huge number of caregivers, 45,000 across Canada, are waiting for their permanent residence applications to be processed. Most are suffering from the angst of family separation as they wait longer and longer to be reunited with their children and spouse.

Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney talked about the growing problem in Parliament on April 25, 2012, but also said “we have not taken any action yet.”

“One program on which we have not taken any action yet is the live-in caregiver program, and this is a concern that I point out to you, colleagues,” said Kenney to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. “We are now sitting on a backlog of 45,000 people with their permanent residency applications in the queue. There’s a five-year wait time, which, to me, is unacceptable.”

Stress, frustration and longing

For caregivers waiting to be reunited with their family in Canada, the vast majority of whom are from the Philippines, the wait for permanent residence is full of stress, frustration and longing.

Imelda Fernandez Domingo came to Canada through the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) on January 24, 2008 leaving behind her husband and son in the Philippines. She completed her two-year work requirement and submitted her permanent residence application in June 2010.

“I hope that when I get my permanent residence my son and my husband can come here and we can be together because it’s been like a decade when I was there taking care of my son. Sometimes he asks why– like his graduation in elementary and high school– I don’t go there because of the work?” she said, her voice cracking as she talked about her 17-year-old son.

She visited her family last year, but before that she had not seen them in four years. She previously worked in Hong Kong before immigrating to Canada.

Until now she continues to work as a caregiver in North York as she waits for her and her family’s application to be processed.

“I stay here in my employer’s house for five years now. It’s supposed to be three years or four years you can take your family in Canada to be reunited. It’s totally stressful,” Domingo said.

She lives alone with her elderly employers. “It’s hard too for me because I’m taking care of 95-year-old and 85-year-old elderly people. It’ll be easier for me if my husband were here and he could help,” she said.

Current wait time

According to  the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) website, the current average wait time for the processing of caregivers’ permanent residence applications is three years and two months.

Caregivers are disallowed from bringing their family to Canada when they immigrate through the LCP. They must complete 24 months of full-time work, or 3900 hours, before they qualify to become permanent residents and can sponsor their relatives to immigrate to Canada.

Then there are two separate applications that must be processed before the caregiver and his or her family are approved as permanent residents. First, the caregiver submits his or her principal applicant (PA) application. “When the PA’s application is approved in principle (first stage approval) the dependents are then contacted to submit their application for processing,” said Remi Lariviere from CIC Media Relations in an email to The Philippine Reporter.

Processing times include the time from when the government receives the caregivers’ PA application and when the dependents’ applications are approved.

With the current average wait time added to the caregiver’s 24-month work requirement, it will now take a caregiver a minimum of over five years, on average, before they can be reunited with their family in Canada.

“We sacrifice a lot, us caregivers. It’s a sacrifice. Even if we don’t like the job, even if it’s hard for us, we need to finish the 24 months in order to process our papers and sponsor our family,” Domingo said.

“Our main focus, we came here to be reunited with our family. So maybe the government can look after that and the long wait can lessen in order for us to be happy with our family,” she said.
Wait times increasing

The wait times have dramatically increased in recent years. In 2008 the wait time for LCP permanent residence applications was 24 months. In 2011, the wait time was 27 months. This is according to CIC records sent to The Philippine Reporter. Now the current wait time has drastically increased to 38 months.

When asked about the increase in wait times, Whitney Punchak, a CIC Communications Advisor said in an email, “In 2012 processing times grew due to the high number of applications received in 2008 and 2009.”

When Domingo is asked about her and her family’s wait time, she said, “I don’t think about it anymore because it’s so stressful. If I think about it, I lose focus in my work. I thought that after two years in one employer, it’s easy for me to get my permanent residence and get my family back home sponsored. But it’s not the case anymore because it’s too long waiting.”

When Domingo calls CIC and the Visa office in the Philippines, they cannot tell her when their applications will be complete. “They told me to just wait,” she said.

“It feels like we are in a jail”

Another caregiver interviewed by The Philippine Reporter who did not want her name published also talked about the angst she is experiencing because of the long wait time separated from her son and 15-year-old daughter.

She wrote in an email to The Philippine Reporter, “They are attracting people to come to Canada to work promising that they will be reunited as soon as possible, but in our case I think it’s not happening sooner but always later … It feels like we are in a jail waiting and longing for the judgment day on when are we going to be free.”

“I feel so frustrated and so full of anger,” she said in an interview. “I always regret being in this program because I didn’t know it would take a while. Whenever I talk about this, I’m always crying because I have not been with my son for a long, long time. I left the Philippines when he was three years old, and now he’s eight. We still don’t know when– for us as a family– we can be together.”

“Not being with your son and daughter everyday is so, so hard,” she continued.

She came to Canada in 2007 intending to apply to be an immigrant in another category, but a lawyer advised her that it is better for her to be in the LCP because it would be easier and faster.

The lawyer told her that she would have to work for two years and within a year after that, her family would be immigrants in Canada. “So that’s why I ended up in the LCP,” she said, “but it ended up taking longer.” She is filled with regret that she took this route.

“Now I’m in my 35th month [after applying for permanent residence], and still I haven’t heard anything from them and my son has not got his medical kit yet,” referring to the medical screening information that applicants must complete as part of the immigration process.

She often checks the website for the average wait times because it is the only sense she can get of how long it will take before she can bring her children to Canada. When CIC changed the average wait time on the website from 32 months to 38 months in February 2013, she said, “It’s like the earth is falling on you when they add six months.”

Government knows there is a problem

Unfortunately, caregivers like her and Domingo are far from the only people being told to wait and who are suffering years of family separation. As Kenney said at the Standing Committee meeting, “There are currently 45,000 people with applications in the system who are waiting for permanent residency.”

Kenney also said he “recently met with representatives of organizations advocating on behalf of live-in caregivers to discuss potential further changes to the program in addition to the broad package of reforms we introduced in 2011. We recognize that the inventory is unmanageable, ungovernable.”

When asked by The Philippine Reporter what CIC is doing about the wait times, Punchak said in an email, “CIC remains committed to improving processing times across all of our immigration streams. As a result of the high number of applications received in 2008 and 2009, CIC welcomed nearly 14,000 permanent residents through the Live-in Caregiver Class. That is a record high, more than doubling the number of admissions from 2007. The inventory of cases remains high.”

Past changes to LCP do not address processing time

Punchak said that changes made in April 2010 to the LCP “made it easier for live-in caregivers to become permanent.” These changes extended the time limit to complete the work requirement from three years to four years, allowed up to 390 hours of overtime to apply in the total hours worked, and removed the second medical exam.

While the changes from April 2010 made eligibility for permanent residence easier, it is difficult to see how they deal with the long wait times for processing permanent residence applications.

In December 2011, another change was made that allowed caregivers to be “eligible for an open work permit immediately after they apply for permanent residence, instead of waiting until their application has received approval-in-principle,” Punchak said.

When this change was announced, people such as MP Don Davies (NDP-Vancouver Kingsway) criticized the government for creating the long wait times in the first place, and not doing more to fix that. “I think it’s appalling that the government let this situation arise in the first place,” he said in an interview with The Philippine Reporter at the time.

The government’s way to deal with backlogs

The wait times were long when changes were made in 2011 and have only grown since. As Kenney said at the April 2013 Standing Committee meeting, the CIC has “not taken any action yet.” But given the government’s track record in dealing with immigration backlogs, it is hard to know whether any actions CIC takes would benefit applicants.

The government has in recent years taken drastic measures to reduce the backlog of immigration applications in other categories. In 2012, the government terminated all applications in the Federal Skilled Worker category that were filed before February 27, 2008. The CIC said on their website, that this affected around 280,000 people around the world. In November 2011, CIC temporarily stopped receiving applications for the sponsorship of parents and grandparents. Parent and grandparent sponsorships will resume in January 2014, but with much tougher rules, such as higher minimum earnings for the Canadian sponsors. (http://philippinereporter.com/2013/05/24/parent-and-grandparent-sponsorship-resumes-with-major-changes/)

Not enough resources

Critics like Evelyn Calugay from the advocacy group Pinay in Montreal say that the government is not allocating enough resources to reducing the backlog. “Of course, they haven’t done anything about it because they have cut personnel,” she said.

In June 2012, CIC closed 19 local offices in Canada nationally and laid off 70 employees saying the move saved money and supported more electronic processing. Permanent resident applications that were processed at the closed offices were transferred to other offices.

Tens of thousands more currently in LCP

Meanwhile, more and more caregivers and their families could be waiting longer and longer.

In addition to the 45,000 people waiting for permanent residency through the LCP, there are “another 40,000 temporary residents in the program who eventually, we anticipate, will make PR applications,” Kenney said at the April 2103 Standing Committee meeting.

For these caregivers, the wait time may become even longer and family separation, even harder to bear.

“It causes anxiety and depression on the part of family members being sponsored and the caregivers here as well,” said Loida Gatchalian, Settlement Counselor at Kababayan Community Centre in Parkdale, “Because of the long separation, they become like strangers.”

When the family members come to Canada, reconnecting is difficult and often the children’s school performance suffers. “It causes them a lot of problems– marital problems, relationship problems, raising kids, and the list can go on and on,” she said.

It appears there is no end in sight to the growing thousands of Filipino families suffering from the impacts of family separation.
Many advocates want the government to allow the caregiver’s family to come at the same time the caregiver begins work in Canada. The government has said this is a change they are unwilling to make.