Edmonton·Go Public

Nanny program stonewalled by Ottawa, frustrated parents say

Parents who say they’re tearing their hair out trying to apply for a foreign nanny accuse the federal government of stringing them along for political reasons. “We're pawns in a game that's supposed to look like families are getting helped, but they're not,” says an Edmonton father.

Overwhelming number of applications not approved, but minister responsible makes no apologies

Nanny program stonewalled by Ottawa: parents


6 years ago
Overwhelming number of applications not approved, but minister responsible makes no apologies 1:38

Parents who say they're tearing their hair out trying to apply for a foreign nanny accuse the federal government of stringing them along — for political reasons.

"We're pawns in a game that's supposed to look like families are getting helped, but they're not," said Michael Shandro, the Edmonton father of two preschoolers.

The Shandros believe the government isn't being honest about its true intentions for the live-in caregiver program. (CBC)

They believe the government has effectively killed the live-in caregiver program, without coming out and saying so.

"Frustration is the biggest thing, because we don't have a clear handle on the future for our kids," said his wife, Haley. "We're just in limbo."

The Shandros are among hundreds of parents whose applications to bring in foreign nannies have been rejected since Ottawa tightened rules in the temporary foreign worker program.

Most not approved

Government statistics show 97 per cent of the applications from 751 parents needing child care were not approved between Dec. 1 — when the rules changed — to the end of March.

The Shandros hired Hazel Coboverde through their agency. She has been waiting in Hong Kong since November to come to Canada to work for the family. (Skype)

"It's so much time — back and forth putting in the paperwork, trying to phone and getting a status application, getting rejection letters," said Michael, pointing out that civil servants are getting paid to overwhelmingly issue rejections.

"Everyone's paying for this debacle."

The Shandros have been turned down twice, for baffling reasons, they said. Government form letters show they got one strike for not proving they have children who need care, even though they said they sent birth certificates.

"They're well-documented as existing, so I'm not sure what that's about," said Haley about Evelyn, 4 and Andrew, 6.

The couple work together as self-employed photographers, sometimes at odd hours, doing weddings and other events.

Canadian nannies scarce

They said they've tried hard to hire Canadian nannies, emailing 25 candidates through a local site. Only two responded, but didn't come through.  

"We also had one a little while ago who stole from us, who didn't care about the kids," said Haley. 

Another reason the government said they can't have a foreign caregiver was that the couple said yes — on a form — when asked if they had room for the nanny to stay in their home.

Immigration consultant Nir Rozenberg says the government should just shut down the caregiver program rather than string families along. (CBC)

The government later decided parents can't require caregivers to live in, then applied that new rule to the Shandros' old application. The couple said they don't require a live-in, it was just an option on the form.

"It just doesn't feel honest," said Haley. "We followed all the rules, and they turned around and said, 'Oh, we changed our minds. Sorry.'"

Many families frustrated

An Ontario man told Go Public he faced barriers just trying to keep a caregiver who is already here looking after his elderly father, who is quite attached to her.

Jon Agg's mother was listed as the caregiver's employer, but she died in December. Agg said he simply wanted the employer name changed, but his request was rejected — twice — because he didn't advertise the job.

"We explained that we were not going to advertise because the person we had already hired was still living at our house," said Agg, who is now getting help from his member of Parliament.

The minister responsible, Pierre Poilievre, makes no apologies for the sharp decline in the number of live-in caregiver applications approved. (CBC)

One nanny agency, which asked to not be named, said business is suffering, because virtually all of its clients' applications for foreign caregivers have been rejected.

It said clients can't find Canadians to hire, either. Eight who advertised jobs heard from just seven local applicants between them, the agency said. None was qualified.

"It's unfortunate that it has come down to this," said Nir Rozenberg, an immigration consultant who handles applications countrywide.

"These mothers and fathers who end up sitting at home don't end up paying taxes. They don't collect an income. So at the end of the day it ends up being a problem nationally when it comes to families."

Minister pleased with program

"We didn't design the program to make immigration consultants happy," said Minister of Employment and Social Development Pierre Poilievre.

He said he's proud of how fast his department is processing applications. He pointed out that parents who are rejected because they applied for a live-in-nanny will be refunded the $1,000 fee.

"Bottom line is, we're not going to allow employers to hire people and force them to live in the basement of the dwelling and we're not going to allow the program to displace Canadians from caregiver jobs."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he wouldn't allow a 'permanent underclass' of temporary foreign workers at a news conference with the Philippine president earlier this month. (CBC)

When Go Public told him parents who have met the government criteria have also been rejected, he didn't budge.

"We're very pleased with how the program is working."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently answered questions about this by making it clear he doesn't like this type of employment arrangement.

"This country is not going to have a policy as long as I'm prime minister where we will have a permanent underclass of people who are so-called temporary, but here forever with no rights of citizenship and no rights of mobility."

End the misery, parents say

Families and agencies affected by this say that's fair enough, but the government should simply end the live-in-caregiver program and all the frustration it's causing.

Michael and Haley Shandro predict they will lose income and opportunities to hire Canadians in their business because they don't have someone to look after their two small children. (CBC)

The Shandros suspect the Harper government doesn't want to do that now for fear of alienating voters like them, while trying to sell its family friendly agenda.

"If we're struggling in this, imagine the people overseas who are applying for this. They are struggling way more. It's completely unfair to them."

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Kathy Tomlinson worked as an investigative reporter at CBC for more than a decade.


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