Groups representing live-in caregivers say Immigration Minister Chris Alexander is considering moving the foreign caregiver program over to its new express entry immigration system, as he seeks input from various stakeholders ahead of much-anticipated reforms.

The Live-In Caregiver Program was by and large excluded from reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program announced by the government in June, but the government said an overhaul to the caregiver program would be coming this fall.

Manuela Gruber Hersch, president of the Association of Caregiver & Nanny Agencies Canada, said Alexander floated the idea during a consultation meeting she attended in Vancouver this July.

Gruber Hersch has been critical of earlier reforms brought to the program by Jason Kenney, Alexander's predecessor, and more recently with the $1,000 fee Kenney imposed on employers looking to hire foreign workers, which also applies to Canadian families looking for foreign caregivers and nannies.

"The Live-In Caregiver Program needs to meet the needs of Canadian families while protecting the rights of live-in caregivers," Gruber Hersch told CBC News on Thursday.

Gruber Hersch, who was pleased to have received an invitation given her criticism of the government, said Alexander also talked about easing some of the rules, such as:

  • Making it optional for foreign caregivers to live with their employers. Under the current program, caregivers must live with the Canadian families that hire them.
  • Extending the period of time caregivers can spend studying. Currently, caregivers can take a course or program lasting up to six months before having to apply for a study permit.

Under the current program, live-in caregivers come to work for Canadian families as temporary foreign workers, many of them leaving their spouses and children behind while they establish a life in Canada.

After two years of work, the caregivers are then eligible to apply for permanent residency, but that alone can take more than three years.

The current wait time for 80 per cent of permanent resident applications received under the caregiver program between April 1, 2013, and March 31 is 39 months, according to the government's citizenship and immigration web site.

Groups call to make caregivers permanent from outset

Under express entry, an immigration system being implemented in the new year, prospective applicants will be invited to apply for permanent residence based on a number of skills, including work experience, language ability and education. Candidates will  be ranked against others in a pool, but only "the highest-ranking" candidates will be invited to apply. 

Live-in caregiver groups are concerned the move will make it harder for new caregivers to come to Canada while making it more difficult for those already here to obtain permanent residency. They are also concerned the move to express entry would fail to address a large backlog of caregivers still waiting to come to Canada or awaiting residency.

Christopher Sorio, the vice-chair for Migrante Canada, a national organization representing Filipino immigrants, told CBC News that groups representing live-in caregivers have heard about the ideas floated by Alexander and are calling on the government to find "a permanent fix."

"We are urging the government to admit live-in caregivers as permanent residents from the outset," Sorio said in an interview on Wednesday.

Aimee Beboso, the chair of the Ottawa-based Philippine Migrants Society of Canada, echoed Sorio's remarks.

"If the live-in caregivers are good enough to work here, they're good enough to stay," she told CBC News in an interview on Tuesday.

Beboso, whose group was not invited to take part in consultation meetings with Alexander, said live-in caregiver groups are worried the government is only consulting a small number of stakeholders.

"It's unclear how they are going about it," she said.

A number of groups have written to Alexander with their suggestions for reforming the program, while others have started online petitions opposing the possible move to express entry.

'Canada needs caregivers': Alexander

Asked by CBC News whether the government was considering moving the caregiver program over to express entry, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander would not say.

"Wherever we go with the caregiver program, for now we have a very solid proven program with improved protections.

"There will be that temporary and that permanent aspect," Alexander told CBC News on Wednesday.

Alexander noted more live-in caregivers and nannies currently working for Canadian families would see their permanent residency applications approved in 2014.

"This year, we're processing 17,500 caregiver applications from the backlog, which is unprecedented."

Alexander acknowledged the growing need for more caregivers and nannies across the country.

"Canada needs caregivers … but we need them, and I think caregivers are the first to recognize this, in a broader range of occupations than ever before. 

"Some in the traditional role of helping with young children at home. Others, helping with medical need situations in homes. And then in institutions as well where there are a wide variety of needs, professional needs, highly skilled needs that aren't necessarily being met anywhere close to the scale needed in many parts of the country," Alexander said.

Former employment minister Jason Kenney was more critical of the caregiver program in June, saying it had morphed into a family reunification program.

NDP immigration critic Lysanne Blanchette-Lamothe criticized the government for its "lack of transparency."

"They’ve hinted at changes, while vilifying certain communities they claim are abusing the program, without providing any evidence. 

"They’ve refused to hold public and open consultations and have excluded important advocates and experts from their closed door consultations," Blanchette-Lamothe said in a written statement to CBC News.