New caregiver pilot programs: High hopes, unanswered questions

Top News Mar 8, 2019 at 5:41 pm
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen invited the audience for a group photo op.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen invited the audience for a group photo op. (Photo: MC Ramos)

By Michelle Chermaine Ramos
The Philippine Reporter

THE caregiver program of the federal government has undergone another revision. For how many times now, no one seems to care. But what caregivers and their advocacy supporters want to know are straightforward answers to questions that affect their lives and their families.

On Saturday February 23, 2019, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Ahmed Hussen and Rob Oliphant, MP for Don Valley West held a press conference at The Neighborhood Organization located at 1 Leaside Park Drive in Toronto, to announce the launch of 2 new 5-year caregiver immigration pilot programs.

From left: Shelina Shivji  of TNO, MP Salma Zahid, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen,  MP Michael Levitt, MP Rob Oliphant, and Ahmed Hussein of TNO

From left: Shelina Shivji of TNO, MP Salma Zahid, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, MP Michael Levitt, MP Rob Oliphant, and Ahmed Hussein of TNO. (Photo: MC Ramos)

The Minister promised that under the two new 5-year immigration pilot programs, which will replace the Caring for Children and Caring for People with High Medical Needs programs, caregivers will soon have occupation specific work permits allowing them to change jobs more easily. Applicants will be assessed for their eligibility for permanent residency prior to working in Canada. If approved, their spouses/common-law partners and children will also be provided with open work permits and study permits and allowed to accompany them to Canada.

Additionally, the Minister also announced the launch of the Interim Pathway for Caregivers, which will be open during the small window of time between March 4, 2019 until June 4, 2019, during which caregivers who were left in limbo after the end of the Live-in Caregiver program in 2014 can apply for permanent residency.

According to the announcement, the Government has reduced 94% of the backlog and as well as the processing time down to 12 months.

The Home Care Provider Pilot and Home Support Worker Pilot are set to launch later this year pending further details and will have a maximum of 2,750 principal applicants each totalling 5,500 applicants per year, not counting spouses/common-law partners and dependent children.

Ahmed Hussein, Executive Director, The Neighbourhood Organization (TNO)

Ahmed Hussein, Executive Director, The Neighbourhood Organization (TNO) (Photo: MC Ramos)

While the announced changes are a huge victory for the caregivers’ advocacy groups and were met with much excitement and acknowledged as a step in the right direction, many lingering questions still remain due to the current lack of details as to how these changes will be implemented and the exact criteria for eligibility.

During the press conference, only the media was allowed to ask questions and many caregivers complained that prior to the event, they were told that they were not allowed to ask questions in the public Q&A.

Furthermore, following the public Q&A was a closed door meeting with the politicians and a select group of caregivers where several caregivers were hoping to personally ask the Minister about their various concerns. However, many complained that even that brief meeting’s discussion was moderated as they were told that only designated representatives could ask questions on their behalf. Members of the media were not allowed inside either.

The official news release says, “The interim program will have modified criteria compared to the current pilot programs and offer a pathway to permanent residence for caregivers who, in good faith, have come to Canada and are providing care to Canadians, without a clear pathway to permanent residence.”

Caregivers are asking what exactly are the modified criteria and clear guidelines regarding the application process and eligibility.

Carolann Barr Director of Newcomer Services at TNO with MP Salma Zahid

Carolann Barr Director of Newcomer Services at TNO with MP Salma Zahid. (Photo: MC Ramos)

While the announcement is exciting news for foreign workers applying from their countries of origin, an important question is what will happen to the current PR applicants already in Canada.

Christine Santos of ABS-CBN asked during the press con, “How would that affect the immigrants that are here who are trying to sponsor their parents, siblings or their kids? Would that supersede or would the process be faster for the caregivers who are bringing their kids here and family?”

Minister Ahmed Hussen vaguely responded, “So, basically, they’ll get a job in Canada as a caregiver and they’ll get a work permit to come to Canada and the only requirement for them to get permanent residency will be to work for a minimum period of two years. Now, unlike in the past, they can immediately also once they are selected to come to Canada to work and accept a job, they’ll also be able to bring their spouse and their children. The spouse will get an open work permit and the children will get study permits so that they will go to school. So, there will be no longer this issue of family separation. And then once they are here, after two years, they can apply for permanent residency and therefore include their families in the application.”

The question remains unanswered as Santos was specifically asking about how the changes will affect applicants who are currently in Canada, and not about those who are applying and have yet to arrive here.

Rob Oliphant, MP

Rob Oliphant, MP

The language tests are a major cause of anxiety for many caregivers since according to TNO Executive Director Ahmed Hussein, approximately 40% fail the CILPAP exam and it costs $320 to take each time, which is expensive for caregivers who struggle financially and have difficulty finding the time to study due to their work.

Hussein requested Minister Ahmed Hussen to allow agencies like TNO to administer the exams to reduce the applicants’ anxiety by allowing them to take the tests in an environment they are comfortable in.

“TNO is one of the very few settlement agencies that provides support for migrant caregivers since technically, they are not covered in most settlement programs because they are not permanent residents and most agencies provide support only for newly arrived refugees or permanent residents,” explained Connie Sorio, a Migrant Justice Coordinator with KAIROS and settlement worker for TNO. Another important question was what will happen to newcomers who need medical care and if they will be eligible for OHIP and if a second medical test will be required to apply for permanent residency in the new programs.

Juana Tejada

Juana Tejada

JUANA TEJADA LAW

This March 8, 2019 marks the 10th death anniversary of Juana Tejada, a caregiver who fought for permanent residency when she was denied PR status twice after she developed colon cancer while working in Canada.

Connie Sorio, Kairos

Connie Sorio, Kairos (Photo: MC Ramos)

“Previously, during the Harper government we had the Juana Tejada law,” said Sorio. “We advocated for the elimination of the second examination because we said when she applied and approved to come to Canada, she already went through this tedious process of going through medical examinations and she was admitted. So definitely, she got ill when she was already working in Canada. So, it is our responsibility to take care of her and now they’re sending her back because she got sick while working?” Tejada won her permanent residency and interim federal health coverage but succumbed to her illness and passed away in 2009.

“She knew that her cancer was terminal so she did a very principled fight that her obtaining permanent residency was not really for her to enjoy but for workers like her not to have to go through the agony she went through,” Sorio explained. “That was her legacy but when the Liberals came into power, they scrapped this exemption so now workers have to take the second medical examination again.”

Caregivers in TNO’s English language class

Caregivers in TNO’s English language class (Photo: MC Ramos)

 

Kara Manso, Caregivers  Action Centre

Kara Manso, Caregivers Action Centre