Recently, a new set of regulations took effect that drastically changed the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP). To discuss the impacts of these changes, Dr. Philip Kelly of the York Centre for Asian Research organized a panel of legal professionals and caregiver advocates.
With the end of the live-in requirement, the imposition of quotas on the number of caregivers allowed to receive permanent residency, and the division of caregivers into streams based on who they serve, the panelists expressed their unease about the impacts of these changes.
Osgoode Hall lawyer Fay Faraday observed that the new policies were due to a shift in discourse. Although “good enough to work, good enough to stay” was the message once reflected in mainstream media, Faraday said, “All of a sudden, there was an aggressive assertion of stories: that caregivers were misusing the LCP as a fraudulent family reunification process, and that there were runaway nannies.”
She said that these stories “undermined trust in the system… And lo and behold, we get these changes that threaten the very quid pro quo on which that program was built: the exchange of labour for the promise of permanent status.”
Under the new changes to the caregiver program, the federal government will allow only 5500 domestic workers to apply for permanent resident status each year. But how will this quota impact the 60,000 caregivers who wait in the backlog of applicants— caregivers who have completed the LCP requirements and are awaiting permanent resident status?
Faraday also brought up the new streams. She explained that although currently, caregivers can freely serve both children and those with high medical needs, dividing these roles into two pathways is detrimental to caregivers. “It makes it more difficult for workers to accumulate their 24 months because they are locked into one stream or the other.”
The High Medical Needs Pathway will encompass registered nurses, registered psychiatric nurses, licensed practical nurses. Faraday said that all of them currently have the right to immigrate “without going through this at the end of the day about whether or not they’re ever entitled to permanence.” Dr. Kelly said, “This appears to raise the possibility that nurses and other healthcare workers will now be incorporated into this two-step immigration.”
For immigration lawyer Deanna Santos, one of the major issues lies in the work permit being tied to an individual employer. “Although making the live-in condition optional for the caregiver will reduce vulnerability to some extent, it will still lead to exploitation for many as long as the work permit remains tied to a specific employer.” Santos called for employer-specific work permits to instead become to occupation-specific, as this would allow caregivers flexibility when enhancing career opportunities and financing education.
Petronila Cleto of Gabriela Ontario added that even with the live-out requirement, the issue is still about the vulnerability of caregivers within their employers’ homes. Cleto said that monitoring working conditions is key because “even if a caregiver lived out, an employer, if he so wished, could still demand longer hours of work, demand multiple services, and in any way not follow the terms of the contract.” An employer can still demand that a caregiver live in his home, and “can do almost anything inside his own property because there is no third party to monitor or evaluate how he behaves towards his worker.” Cleto recommended a central registry of employers as a starting point.
Caregivers’ safety was an important factor for Pura Velasco from the Caregivers Action Centre. She said, “The caregivers’ fear of being deported prevents them from complaining about their precious employment situation.” She referred to the recent death of Marites Angana, a caregiver who suffered a severe head injury after falling in her employer’s garage. Velasco called for the inclusion of domestic workers in the Occupational Health and Safety Act, with WSIB coverage and compensation in cases of injury.
Avvy Go, Director of Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, focused on a politically proactive approach. Go suggested a discussion with the NDP, who are proposing a motion to remove the quotas on caregivers who will receive permanent residency. “There’s a federal election coming up. Perhaps we need to start engaging the opposition parties now. Present our position.”
Go also warned, however, that no matter what adverse impacts the changes bring, there will always be a stream of applicants. “As long as there’s inequality between the global north and the global south, there will still be live-in caregivers who are trying to come here, no matter how harsh the conditions, and how tough these restrictions are. They will always hold out hope that at the end of the day, they will get permanent resident status, and that’s the reason why they’re coming.”
Although the end of the live-in requirement is a definite gain for caregivers, the new policies bring great uncertainty about the impacts on the program. “With these recent changes, it appears that many of the gains achieved under this program are being clawed back," said Santos.
The rationale for limiting the number of caregivers who can apply for permanent residency is something that every speaker sought to understand. As Santos said, “Minister Alexander, in one forum that he attended trying to explain these changes, said that the quota may be changed subject to demand. So if it’s really true that they’re sincere in meeting the demand, why impose a quota in the first place?”
This article was originally published in The Philippine Reporter on January 30th, 2015, and was featured by the York Centre for Asian Research.