‘We are the Backlog’ coalition presses for permanent residency now

Community News & Features Sep 29, 2017 at 4:56 pm
At the rally, a frequent chant from members of the Coalition was ‘Status Upon Arrival!’   (PHOTOS: Jecris Tubigon)

At the rally, a frequent chant from members of the Coalition was ‘Status Upon Arrival!’ (PHOTOS: Jecris Tubigon)

By Petronila G. Cleto

Caregivers are asking the government to fix the structures and mechanisms in the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigrations, causing the backlog that goes against the policy of family reunification, breaking their families as a result of prolonged separation. They also demanded landed status upon arrival, and open permits, instead of one-employer (closed) permits.

A brand new coalition, “We, the Backlog” rallied in front of the 55 St. Clair East offices of the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration on September 15. It was a unique rally in that not only were leaders heard, but many caregivers also, who shared their stories. Coalition founders come from members and advocates of ETC (Eto Tayong Caregivers); contacts/clients and advocates of the Thorncliffe Neighborhood Office; Caregivers’ Action Centre; Kairos; GABRIELA Ontario; Anakbayan Toronto; and Migrante Ontario.

They were joined by advocates from other organizations or agencies: Parkdale Legal Centre, the Workers’ Action Center, and Kwentong Bayan. MP Jenny Kwan from Vancouver South, also the NDP’s representative in the House of Commons, designated as Citizenship, Refugee and Immigrations Critic, also made a strong presence. A few passersby, also caregivers, also joined them.

Caregivers put up posters with other calls of the day.  Sarah Salise of Anakbayan Toronto (2nd from left) emceed for the day. Maria Theresa Madera, 3rd from right, is another caregiver fighting for her landed immigrancy on Humanitarian and Compassionate grounds, because she was brought into Canada by unscrupulous recruiter/employer who never worked out her papers, including her LMO, and later, LMIS properly.

Caregivers put up posters with other calls of the day. Sarah Salise of Anakbayan Toronto (2nd from left) emceed for the day. Maria Theresa Madera, 3rd from right, is another caregiver fighting for her landed immigrancy on Humanitarian and Compassionate grounds, because she was brought into Canada by unscrupulous recruiter/employer who never worked out her papers, including her LMO, and later, LMIS properly.

Vilma “Ate Vi” Pagaduan of the ETC (Eto Tayong Caregivers) welcomed everyone who came to the rally. She stressed that “it is time for all the caregivers in the backlog to do such an action (the rally) because you have been waiting for a long time for your PR status.” Speaking for many caregivers, and for herself, since she also went through a long waiting time, she sees the great failure of government to really solve the backlog problem, as an important factor that has caused so much trouble for them and their families.

Maria Sol Prieto, of Migrante Ontario, a former caregiver, talked about the reason why many Filipino temporary workers are here – the creation of the Labor Export Policy or LEP in 1972, by the same President Ferdinand Marcos who declared Martial Law. The LEP immediately sent many migrant workers to the Middle East, then having a construction boom, and where caregivers were needed by wives and mothers in wealthy families who wanted to be freed of domestic labor.

The creation in 1992 in Canada of the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP), which brought in hundreds of thousands of workers to work as nannies and caregivers to elderly and people with disabilities- all drawn by the promise of permanent residency after 2 years, and thereafter, family reunification. The two-year full-time work while residing with employers, Prieto said, made them endure isolation, distance, and separation with their families and community,and most of all, vulnerable to exploitation, maltreatment, harassment, and abuse.

Things worsened through the use of later LCP policies like Bill C-50 in 2008, by which the Minister of Immigration gained full power to limit the number of applicants, reject applications, and decide how new applications are processed.

Because of the Bill: Minister Chris Alexander in 2014 was able to create two new pathways, setting a cap of 2,750 caregivers on both streams to be able to access permanent residency; the Harper government to set the limit to even less (30,000 in 2015); and recently, the Liberal Party to reduce it to 22,000 a year, and then to only 18,000.

“The backlog in the immigration applicants is really caused by an immigration policy that is tailored to meet the economic needs of the government,” Prieto concluded.

A youth from Anakbayan tells her family’s story of migration. Next to her are Sarah Salise, holding up the banner, and Maria Sol Prieto of Migrante Ontario, giving support.

A youth from Anakbayan tells her family’s story of migration. Next to her are Sarah Salise, holding up the banner, and Maria Sol Prieto of Migrante Ontario, giving support.

A daughter of a former Live-in Caregiver, a speaker from Anakbayan, Shayne Hontiveros spoke about her own suffering as a child who didn’t have the care of her mother while she was growing up because her mother was taking care of children not her own. She said that after 8 years of separation, her parent and herself are still having difficulties to establish a real mother-daughter relationship.

This young lady confessed she thinks “nothing is more important than having a mother around when you’re growing up”, but said the main thing to know is: “ we all had to enter a system, where families are forced to be separated, and were kept separated for a long time” . She rallied everyone “to push the CIC to think about children like me, about so many families like ours”.

Kara Manso of the Caregiver Action Centre said that caregivers do not really have rights “ when asserting them puts our immigration status at risk. Our tied-work permits make it even more difficult to take a stand and complain about poor working conditions- we all become dependent on our work permit!” She, ended with“It is a system that allows employers to legally exploit us.”

Speaking for GABRIELA Ontario, Pet Cleto emphasized that the Labor Export Policy of the Philippines, was not a legal, formalized structure or program, and never had bilateral agreements (with receiving governments) to ensure the safety and protection of Filipino migrant workers. When the Canadian government also raised levels of trade with the Philippines in the 70s, she said, migrant workers were also admitted to Canada, as probably a sort of “exchange deal” among the governments.

Caregivers from the Coalition had the chance to talk with MP Jenny Kwan (2nd from left) from Vancouver East and NDP Critic for Citizenship, Refugees and Immigration.  (One of them is shown on the MP’s right: GABRIELA member Jane de Jesus, was denied her PR because of child’s medical “inadmissibility”).  They also met Esel Panlaqui of the TNO (seated extreme left), Vilma Pagaduan of ETC (seated 3rd from left), Maria Sol Prieto of Migarnte Ontario (third from right) and York Professor Ethel Tungohan (2nd from right).

Caregivers from the Coalition had the chance to talk with MP Jenny Kwan (2nd from left) from Vancouver East and NDP Critic for Citizenship, Refugees and Immigration. (One of them is shown on the MP’s right: GABRIELA member Jane de Jesus, was denied her PR because of child’s medical “inadmissibility”). They also met Esel Panlaqui of the TNO (seated extreme left), Vilma Pagaduan of ETC (seated 3rd from left), Maria Sol Prieto of Migarnte Ontario (third from right) and York Professor Ethel Tungohan (2nd from right).

Cleto said the LEP remains a policy today, and although some bills related to migrant workers were made, the workers remain unprotected and unsafe in other lands. For this reason, the backlog could happen in Canada, and become worse. She mentioned the GATES study GABRIELA Ontario did with academicians of York University and Ryerson University, that revealed that the 19 months average waiting time, was actualy continously getting longer.

“We should take heart by remembering achievements of earlier coalitions” she said,especially the 80s when they removed the “forced remittance” policy of the Philippines, and in the late 90s movement, Juana Tejada and all caregivers won – for Juana her permanent resident status, and the Juana Tejada Law for all. NDP’s MP Jenny Kwan for Vancouver East, and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Critic, said that she was heartbroken upon hearing the many stories of the caregivers, and promised to advocate for them in the House of Commons. “This kind of treatment and continued apathy when it comes to the plight of caregiver is inhumane and indefensible.” She was sure, she said, that it is very much in the government’s power to give the caregivers all their demands, especially when they say it with one voice.

Jocelyn Godoy, an active rallyist and speaker at press conferences, says she really put aside her work-hours so she can be active in fighting for acceleration of the processing for PR. “It was a matter of putting my three children first, so they can join me here soon,” A single mother, she had to keep them all in school in order to keep them eligible, so she has had to take 2 or 3 part time jobs. Often speaking of “the agony of separation” the former midwife says many workers leave the Philippines because of poverty, and want their children to have more in life. “If only the Philippine government could also set its economic development well, “she said, “many of us would have stayed and worked there, and be with their families.”

Now that she has been given her PR and can expect her children here very soon, Jocelyn is overjoyed, but declares she is committed to the fight. She encourages others, and be “really serious about this fight and do everything to help everyone succeed!”

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(Disclosure: The author is a caregiver advocate with GABRIELA Ontario)