KAIROS Canada says it is “greatly encouraged” by new government of Canada pilot programs for migrant caregivers that promise an assured pathway to permanent residency for workers, which the justice organization in a statement called “good news for migrant caregivers.”
On Feb. 23, 2019, the government of Canada announced the details of two new pilot programs: Caring for Children and Caring for People with High Medical Needs. According to a press release from the office of Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, under the new programs, “applicants will be assessed for permanent residence criteria before they begin working in Canada. Once the caregiver has their work permit and 2 years of work experience, they will have access to a direct pathway to become a permanent resident.”
Caregivers will also be allowed to bring their families with them to Canada and will be granted open work permits for spouses or common-law partners and study permits for dependent children. Caregivers will also be given occupation-specific work permits that are not tied to a single employer, according to the release.
“Migrant caregivers are very happy that the pathway for permanent residence is assured, but many of them, as well, are apprehensive on how the new program will unfold, including around eligibility, appeal process and financing,” says Connie Sorio, migrant justice coordinator for KAIROS Canada, who was invited to Ottawa for the announcement. “As the saying goes, the devil is in the details, and this is what [is] making workers a bit cautious.”
The current immigration programs for caregivers are five-year pilot programs launched in 2014. Hussen announced late last year that the government would be ending and replacing the current programs in November 2019.
The government’s announcement of the new pilot programs did not specify when these programs would go into effect. When asked for clarification, the minister’s office stated in an email that the pilots would launch “later this year.”
Caregivers are the only workers under the Temporary Foreign Workers’ Program for whom there is a pathway to permanent residency. Permanent residency status is granted to someone who immigrates permanently to Canada but is not a Canadian citizen. Permanent residents can receive social benefits and are protected under Canadian law but cannot vote or run for political office.
Under the new programs, applicants will be assessed for eligibility for permanent residency before being accepted, the minister’s office stated in an emailed response to the Anglican Journal. In the past, caregivers were only assessed for eligibility after completing their Canadian work experience, leaving some who didn’t meet the requirements “in limbo,” according to the minister’s office.
Currently, Sorio says, “it is very difficult for caregivers to become permanent residents because of the language and high educational requirements.” Caregivers have to pass Canadian Language Benchmark 5 and have to have one year of post-secondary education.
In response to a question regarding the eligibility requirements, the office stated that eligibility criteria for the pilots would be made available closer to their launch. “However, we can say that the new pilots will feature criteria that is standard for economic immigration programs, such as minimum education and official language criteria, along with the requirement for the caregiver to gain two years of work experience, like existing caregiver pathways. These criteria have been shown to be critical factors for the successful settlement and establishment in Canada for all new permanent residents, including caregivers.”
The government is also launching a short-term program called the Interim Pathway for Caregivers, meant to serve caregivers who “began working for families in Canada, only to find out later that they were not going to qualify for permanent residence under an existing program.” The interim pathway will “provide a one-time, short term dedicated pathway to permanent residence” for some caregivers, according to the Government of Canada website.
Permanent residency upon arrival
The government has been conducting a series of consultations across Canada over the past year to hear input from workers, caregivers, advocates, civil society organizations and settlement agencies on the new program, says Sorio. KAIROS organized a delegation to Ottawa last March, bringing 25 caregivers from Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal to inform the consultants on the issues they face under the current program.
In October 2018, KAIROS launched an online campaign advocating that the government grant permanent residency upon arrival to caregivers and other migrant workers. Sorio says between 500 and 700 signatures were gathered supporting the cause.
Permanent residency is important for several reasons, says Sorio. “First of all, Canada needs these people—that’s why we have the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. But then, as the experience has shown, why do we use workers to fill in non-temporary jobs, and yet we call them temporary workers? Why not grant them permanent residency?”
Giving some caregivers permanent residency and others not also creates a two-tiered system within the same profession, says Sorio.
Because work permits for caregivers are tied to an employer, it also opens up opportunities for abuse. “Even if the workers want to leave the employers, they can’t do it, because then they lose their work permit, they have to find a new employer and have to go through the process of applying [for] the permit and so forth,” Sorio explains.
Under the new pilot programs, caregivers will be issued open work permits, enabling them to more easily switch employers.
The new programs will also allow workers to bring their families with them to Canada, something could not be done under the previous programs until the worker had been granted permanent residency.
Through its advocacy work, KAIROS has seen “a lot of issues around family separation,” Sorio notes. Between the required two years of working in Canada before applying for permanent residency, the four- to five-year processing time and any other time needed to meet the language and educational requirements, “there is an average of eight to nine years of being separated from their children…and when finally they become permanent residents here in Canada and they get the green light to bring their family, it’s not really a family…for kids, they’re taken away from an environment they grew up with, their grandparents and extended relatives who nurtured and took care of them, and all of a sudden you’re with your mom, but you don’t really know her.”
By Sorio’s estimation, 98% of migrant caregivers in Canada are women, and about 60-70% of these women are married with children.
One potential area of concern under the new program may be how the details of study permits for children are handled; if dependents are considered international students, they will pay high tuition fees, says Sorio.
The need for caregivers
The government has been working to reduce the backlog of permanent residency applications for caregivers, which in December 2017 reached 30,000 applications. According to Hussen’s office, that backlog has been reduced by 94%, with 495 cases left to be processed, and the processing time for new applications is 12 months, rather than four years.
Immigration is a “hot issue” worldwide, Sorio notes. “Of course there’s fear that bringing all these people in would be too much in terms of excessive demand to services, social assistance and so forth, that’s what the other side is saying. On the other hand, there’s really a demand for workers.”
As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the demand for caregivers will only increase, Sorio says. “We don’t have universal senior care and we don’t have universal child care. So the need for caregivers, whether it is caring for the elderly or caring for children, is not going to go away. But if Canada…is giving incentive for these workers to come to Canada…and not giving them permanent residency, I think there’s going to be a huge impact on elderly care, retirement homes, seniors and so forth.”
KAIROS has been working with Temporary Foreign Workers since the early 2000s, hosting the first national migrant justice gathering in 2006, according to Sorio.
Churches that want to learn more about the issues facing caregivers and other Temporary Foreign Workers can download a workshop, Equal in Dignity, Equal in Rights: A Migrant Justice Workshop for Church Communities, for free at KARIOS’ website.
KAIROS Canada is an ecumenical organization made up of 10 member groups, including the Anglican Church of Canada and the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF).