Changes to a federal program to help Canadians hire foreign workers as nannies means families are now dealing with unexplained delays and poor communication, according to applicants.

"Nothing has been approved.  We're in limbo," said Gregory Simon, an Sherwood Park father of three who applied to the program last year.

Simon and his wife have been waiting since October for the federal government to allow them to hire a temporary foreign worker to care for the couple's three young children.

The family's current nanny was hired two years ago through the Live-in Caregiver Program, part of Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program.  

The process took about eight months to hire the first nanny. When they needed to replace their current caregiver for September 2015, Simon expected the process to take about as long.

But a couple of months after they started the process, the federal government made changes to the rules and renamed it the Caregiver Program. It changed how workers could apply for permanent resident status and dropped the requirement that the caregiver live in the home.

At the time, Citizenship and Immigration Canada said the changes were designed to encourage more Canadian applicants for the job, while onetime Immigration Minister Jason Kenney argued the old program had "mutated" into a family-reunification scheme.

However, Simon says all the changes seemed to do is create confusion and delays.

"The snowball went down the mountain and now it's a gigantic boulder," he said.

Long waits, lost applications

To hire a worker under the program, a family must first show there is a need to hire a foreign worker to fill the job, and that no Canadian applicants were available, by applying for a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). If the family receives a positive LMIA, it can start applying for a work permit and eventually hire a foreign national for the job.

Simon said before the family applied for a LMIA, it spent four weeks searching for a Canadian nanny.

"We had zero response to our ads. Not even a sniff," he said. "There wasn't even an application from someone that we denied. It was just zero applications."

The couple then applied for the LMIA. That's where the process stalled.

Simon said family members didn't hear back for weeks and phone calls didn't yield any information. In February, they discovered their application, and those of 23 other families, were missing. The couple had to go through the process again and resubmit the application.

"Three days later, we got a call from the government saying, 'Your application's been received, someone will get back to you in two weeks,'" he said.

"That was end of February and I still haven't heard from anybody yet."

'A closed book'

Simon's family hired Preferred Personnel, an Alberta-based company that helps clients find nannies, to handle the application.

The company's owner, Carl Wurfel, said LMIA applications previously would be approved or rejected in a month or two. However, for the past four months, he has not seen one application processed for his dozens of clients.

"Nothing's happening. Everything is sitting," Wurfel said.

Without an LMIA, families can't move on to the next step of applying for a work permit.

Wurfel said the government has not given information on the delays, calling it "a closed book." His clients are getting frustrated.

"We're hearing, 'Why? Why, why, why?' … and we can't get any answers," he said.

"It's always seemed like they made up the rules as they go along. It's worse than ever."

Carl Wurfel

Carl Wurfel says lost applications and minor changes have meant delays and forced his clients to reapply for nannies from outside Canada. (CBC)

Aside from delays, the changes have brought other frustrations. He said he had to resubmit about 40 applications after the government made changes to its forms, doing little more than renaming one and changing the dates at the bottom of a couple others.

When asked about the delays,  Employment and Social Development Canada responded in an email that in February, 80 per cent of the LMIA applications for foreign workers were processed within 30 days. However, the agency does not separately track LMIA processing times specifically for the caregiver program.

The agency did not answer questions about how many applications had been processed since December or the reason behind the delays.

For parents like Simon, the lack of information is the most frustrating part. He thinks the caregiver program was a victim of politics and the changes were made as part of a "knee-jerk reaction" to wider problems with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

He said even if he and his family had received an LMIA immediately, it would still likely take until late fall to finish the process. He's not sure what the family will do when the current nanny leaves in September.

"We will have to call on grandparents, friends, relatives," he said.:

"We are a dual-income family. We cannot afford to have my wife stay at home, or myself. There's no way that we can afford that."