Canadian families looking to hire nannies and caregivers from abroad will be financially stung by recent changes made to temporary foreign worker program, opposition and industry critics say.
There is now a $275 processing fee for each temporary foreign worker position that an employer requests through a labour market opinion, which is usually required to prove the need to hire a temporary foreign worker over a Canadian one.
The new fee also applies to employers looking to hire a live-in caregiver, but an industry association that connects Canadian employers with foreign workers through the live-in caregiver program said individuals should not be required to pay the same fee as businesses.
Manuela Gruber Hersch, president of the Association of Caregiver & Nanny Agencies Canada, told CBC News: "We find it unfair that families are required to pay the same amount."
A spokeswoman for Employment and Social Development Canada said the new fee ensures the cost to process LMO applications is no longer paid by Canadian taxpayers.
"The amount of the fee has been determined so as to minimize the cost to taxpayers while ensuring that the fee does not exceed the cost of providing the service," she wrote in an email to CBC News, adding that it is government policy "that employers not recover the fee from temporary foreign workers."
Opposition New Democrats, however, said the program is already flawed, and this new processing fee will only put "an extra burden" on hard-working families.
"I think many people have not realized that it applies to the live-in caregiver program," said Jinny Sims, the NDP critic for employment and social development, in an interview with CBC News.
"We're not talking about businesses here, we're talking about families that are struggling to find a live-in caregiver," Sims said.
New language, recruitment and advertising rules announced under the temporary foreign worker program also apply to employers seeking live-in caregivers.
English and French are the only languages that can be identified as a job requirement both in labour market opinion applications and in job advertisements by employers. Exceptions can be made if employers are able to demonstrate that another language is essential for the job.
Employers are also required to redouble their recruitment efforts to hire Canadians and permanent residents before hiring workers from abroad. There are cases where the employer can be exempt from the recruitment and advertising requirement.
The current wait time for processing an application through the caregiver program is 38 months — that is from the moment the application is received to the moment where a decision is made.
Reforms 'badly needed'
The program was designed to allow families in Canada to hire foreign live-in caregivers to care for their children, the elderly, and the disabled when Canadian citizens and permanent residents are not available.
The program is also one of three ways immigrants can achieve permanent resident status in Canada.
ACNA Canada is calling on newly appointed Immigration Minister Chris Alexander to make the program "a priority."
The association, in a post on Twitter, urged Alexander to take action saying, "reforms are badly needed."
A spokeswoman for Alexander's office said the Conservative government recognizes the contributions of live-in caregivers to Canadian families and our economy, and the immigration department will continue to to ensure live-in caregivers are safe and protected.
"Temporary foreign workers, including live-in caregivers, have access to the same recourse mechanisms as Canadian workers when it comes to labour and employment standards," said Alexis Pavlich in an email to CBC News.
Alexander took over the portfolio from Jason Kenney after Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet shuffle on July 15. Kenney is now the minister of employment and social development.
Kenney was largely responsible for overhauling the immigration system. Kenney spoke about the program during testimony before the Commons committee on citizenship and immigration on April 26.
Kenney said he was concerned with the "unmanageable" backlog of permanent residence applications stemming from the program.
"We are now sitting on a backlog of 45,000 people with their permanent residency applications in the queue. There's a five-year wait time, which to me, is unacceptable," Kenney said.
"In fact, that doesn't really disclose the whole truth, because there are also the caregivers who are currently here on a temporary status and have not yet qualified for permanent residency. If we count those two inventories together, we are looking at upwards of 80,000 people and about a 10-year inventory."
Kenney said the government was looking for solutions, but that one of the challenges is that "the program constantly cycles through people, so as soon as people get permanent residency they leave live-in caregiver work."
One of the challenges for people applying to work in Canada as a live-in caregiver is that they cannot immediately bring their children or spouses with them.
Given the current backlog of applications, that means live-in caregivers are separated from their own families for several years.
Sims said she would like to see family reunification for live-in caregivers made a priority.
"They are here because they are desperate for work and they are doing a good job of taking care of either our seniors or our young," Sims said.
Canadian families who employ foreign workers "feel terrible about that," Sims said.
Live-in caregivers have up to four years, from the day they arrive in Canada, to complete the job requirements needed to apply for permanent residency.
Within that time, live-in caregivers must work full-time for 24 months or 3,900 hours within a 22-month period.
So far, "there have been no changes made, nothing to address the backlog," Sims said.
CBC News made repeated attempts to obtain an interview with Alexander this week, but his office said the minister was not available.