When the federal government overhauled the Temporary Foreign Worker program in June, it did so with the release a 40-page paper outlining detailed changes.

While virtually all programs dealing with temporary foreign workers were revised, the live-in caregiver program remained unchanged.

While no changes to the live-in caregiver program have been announced, the federal government has signalled that changes are on the way..

When changes are announced, it is important that the program, which helps thousands of Canadian families, be maintained but be reformed to allow live-in caregivers and their families to arrive in Canada as “conditional permanent residents.”

Caregiver program 'out of control'

Last month Employment Minister Jason Kenney criticized the live-in caregiver program as being “out of control” and having “mutated” into a program of family reunification.

Are these valid concerns? Probably not.

Under Canadian law, a live-in caregiver’s employer must prove that someone in their family needs live-in care before an application will be approved.

In 2013, over 4,600 applications were approved by the federal government. As a result, either thousands of Canadian families need live-in caregivers or the federal government is not assessing applications properly.

If the program is really “out of control,” the federal government should assess applications properly.

Jason Kenney’s comment that this program has “mutated” into a family reunification program is also not relevant.  If a family proves the need for live-in care, the blood relationship to the live-in caregiver is irrelevant.

If this program is being abused and the federal government knows about it, why is it not taking action? If the 4,600 bogus live-in caregiver jobs were approved last year, 4,600 Canadian employers should be prosecuted.

Change needed for live-in caregiver program

The live-in caregiver program is still needed to help Canadians care for young, sick and elderly relatives. While Canadians need this program, changes are needed to ensure the long-term success of the live-in caregiver and his or her family after coming to Canada.

Under the program, a live-in caregiver arrives in Canada as a temporary foreign worker. As a temporary foreign worker, the live-in caregiver is restricted to working for a specific employer at the employer’s residence.

While the live-in caregiver can apply for Canadian permanent residency after completing two years of work, these applications are taking in excess of three years.

The problem with the five year wait is that a number of live-in caregivers have families back home. Many of them leave children and spouses in their home countries while they work in Canada. 

Clearly, being separated from your spouse or children for five years will be disruptive.

Conditional permanent resident status

Earlier this year, the Institute for Research on Public Policy released a study entitled Understanding Intergenerational Social Mobility of Filipino Youth in Canada.

In that study, the author found that Filipino immigrant males are less likely to go to university than their peers in other ethnic groups. For children of live-in caregivers, the study’s author found that the long periods of separation in the live-in caregiver program was a contributing factor

While the study’s author suggests that live-in caregivers should immediately become Canadian permanent residents as opposed to temporary foreign workers, the problem with this solution is that permanent residents can take any job in Canada upon arrival. As a result, many live-in caregivers may not complete the two years of work for the Canadian family who needs their help.

Canada should instead give live-in caregivers and their families “conditional permanent residence” upon arriving to Canada. After the live-in caregiver completes two years of work in Canada, the condition can be removed.

Conditional permanent residency has been used in immigration law for a number of years.  Currently, Canada imposes conditional permanent residency on certain spouses of Canadian citizens and permanent residents.

Under these rules, foreign spouses must live with their Canadian citizen/permanent resident spouse for two years before their permanent residency becomes unconditional. By extension, making a live-in caregiver’s permanent residency conditional to two years of work should not be so problematic.

This solution allows the family of the live-in caregiver to come to Canada immediately. While it may not be possible for the family of a live-in caregiver to live at the residence where the live-in caregiver works, there would be nothing stopping the family from residing close by.

While the family would still face some separation, the live-in caregiver could see his or her family on weekends, after work, and on days off – which is pretty similar to what most working parents and spouses experience anyway.

Requiring the live-in caregiver to live in his or her employer’s residence—and therefore sleep there overnight—is not the most ideal situation. This is the best compromise.

R. Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration lawyer with Aikins Law in Winnipeg.