Instead of illusions, why not permanent residence now upon admission?

Community Opinion & Analysis Mar 9, 2018 at 4:30 pm

CaregiversCanada’s Caregiver Program

By Joe Rivera

In a clarification letter issued last February 18, 2018, the Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s current Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said that Canada is “not shutting down any caregiver programs.” Further, the Minister made it clear that caregivers will always have a pathway to permanent residency.

Soothing words of relief enough to quiet down the fears of many Filipino caregivers who are yet to become permanent residents. But not so quickly.

If we closely examine the record of Canada Immigration in both the previous and current governments, particularly with respect to its policies regarding temporary workers (or temporary work permits), there seems to be a very clear and unsettling movement to lump live-in caregivers under a whole class or category of temporary workers. In other words, the plan was to do away with the program that allows caregivers to become permanent residents after completion of their two-year employment contracts. It was the original plan when the Conservative Party was in power under former Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in 2011, and followed up by his successor, Chris Alexander in 2014. Only after Filipino caregivers and their supporters did not let up in their relentless efforts to pressure Jason Kenney to keep the live-in caregiver program and its path for permanent residency did the government accede and continue to allow applications for permanent residency after caregivers have completed their two-year work contracts. The primary reason the government acquiesced was understandably political, it was running for re-election. But the seed for eventually shutting down the caregiver program was already implanted on the ground.

In 2013, Kenney’s successor, Chris Alexander continued the Conservative government’s policy of bringing in thousands of temporary workers, almost half a million of them, even as the economy slowed down. All these workers became disposable as soon as their work contracts expired, leaving them without the chance to apply as permanent residents.

On November 30, 2014, Minister Alexander repealed section 112 of the Immigration and Refugee Regulations which established the Live-in Caregiver Program. This meant that foreign nationals applying as caregivers were no longer required to have one year of full-time employment, or completion of six months of full-time training, can speak and read English or French, the equivalent of a two-year college education, and a job offer from a future employer. It’s also not mandatory for caregivers to live in with their employers. All applicants for caregivers hereon are to be processed as home care child providers or caregivers for people with high medical needs as described in Canada’s National Occupation Classification (NOC). Both categories of caregivers have been allowed to apply for permanent residence under the government’s pilot programs, Caring for Children and Caring for People with High Medical Needs, which will however expire next year—on November 29, 2019.

This new policy, however, does not apply to caregivers whose applications were accompanied at the time with a Labour Market Impact Assessment, an associated opinion required for new caregivers, provided it was received by Service Canada on or before November 30, 2014. In other words, caregivers can continue to apply for permanent residence under the old Live-in Caregiver program, in addition to the paths for permanent residency under the pilot programs which will expire in November 2019.

The current Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has simply picked up the immigration policies of its predecessor. Ahmed Hussen, the Liberal Immigration Minister, is right in stating in his letter that the government is not shutting down the caregiver program. But he did not mention that the Live-in Caregiver Program is now closed to new applicants, and those without a Live-in Caregiver permit must apply for a regular work permit. In other words, a temporary work permit which is good for a period of four years as envisioned by the previous Conservative government. If this is not alarming to caregivers, it must at least leave a temporary sting or a nagging itch on their spines.
What happens after the two pilot programs of the government expire in November 30, 2019?

All Minister Hussen could say is that Canada Immigration is undertaking a review of the process whether to extend the pilot projects, which is “in no way about the end to a pathway to permanent residency for caregivers.”

A reassurance etched in stone? Or a political stratagem to win votes?

The Conservative government cancelled the Live-in Caregiver Program without making so much of a noise. Nobody hears about it, until we find out that the paths to permanent residency for caregivers under the government’s pilot programs are soon to expire in 2019.

Experience tells us that the government, whether under the Conservatives or the Liberals cannot be fully trusted. Politicians will approach you for your votes but will almost instantaneously turn their backs after the elections. They have short memories and only their interests matter in the end.

There is already a tightening of the borders—if not totally closing them to new immigrants and refugees, whether in our neighbour in the south or in Europe. Under the pretext of misplaced nativism or adherence to national interest first policy, advanced world economies like the United States and Canada are adopting stricter and stricter immigration rules which are disguised as merit-based but are aimed in excluding those who do not look or speak like their dominant population.

When the Liberals assumed power after the last federal elections, they did not overhaul the restrictive immigration policies of the Conservative Party. They simply kept the same immigration mantra that relied on a continuous cycle of infusion of temporary workers needed by the economy but without giving them the fair chance of applying for permanent residence. This is happening now and will continue to happen despite reassurances and promises by the government to provide caregivers the path to permanent residency.

There is only one alternative for caregivers, instead of the illusion being bandied by the government that the pathway to permanent residency will always be available for them, such as the present reassurance by the government that it anyway supports faster family reunification. But it is not about family reunification in the first place. It is all about being just and fair, that once you are admitted because of your skills in providing home care to children and adults with high medical needs, then you must be allowed to come in as a permanent resident just like the rest of the new immigrant class of skilled workers.

Why continue to discriminate against caregivers when the need for them has been validated by one labour market opinion after the other? It is not like their services are temporary in nature, and they can be disposed of after the employment contracts have expired. The need and the demand for caregivers remains very high. They are a cheaper alternative to expensive daycare programs which the government cannot fully fund or subsidize. With a fast expanding and greying population— Canada has more seniors than kids for the first time ever—Canadian seniors and adults with high medical needs further justify the admission of more homecare workers.

The current minister of immigration has admitted in his letter that “the pilot projects are gaining in popularity” with the approval rate of 95%, which is like the approval rate for the Live-in Caregiver Program in the past. So, why the hesitation to admit caregivers as permanent residents instead of contract workers? Perhaps, the government simply wants more elbow room for itself, or rather wants to keep caregivers in limbo as a convenient political ploy and subterfuge to gain votes at election time.