Changes to Canada's caregiver program lauded but steps still needed
Last week, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced changes to Canada's live-in caregiver program that will improve the lives of foreign caregivers and more quickly facilitate their eventual Canadian citizenship.
While these changes are welcome, there are some improvements that can be made.
Namely, the government should commit itself to speed up the process for the initial entry of caregivers to Canada to more quickly provide care for Canadian families.
For decades now, the caregiver immigration program has allowed Canadians to bring in foreign caregivers to care for their relatives. The preservation of this program is important for Canadians in need of child care, elder care and care for family members with disabilities.
Path to permanent residency
The most important change made to the caregiver program is the elimination of the requirement that caregivers live at the homes of their employers for two years before being able to apply for permanent residence.
Years ago, this requirement was established because it was believed that individuals requiring care needed a live-in caregiver.
Despite the live-in requirement under the old program, caregivers were only contractually obligated to work full-time work hours – about 40 hours a week. Because caregivers were free to leave their employer’s residence on weekends and after work hours, requiring them to live with their employers made no sense.
By changing the program to allow caregivers to live wherever they choose, caregivers will now have the same freedoms of virtually every other employee in Canada.
Another important change is that caregivers will now have a pathway to permanent residency within six months after they complete their two-year work requirement.
Over the last number of years, there has been a significant backlog in these applications and the immigration minister has acknowledged that, in some cases, caregivers had to wait more than eight years before permanent resident applications were approved.
The long processing times for caregivers meant that some caregivers were separated from their families for up to a decade.
For caregivers who had young children when they came to Canada, many missed their children’s entire childhood.
The immigration minister has acknowledged that the long wait for permanent residency created a paradox where caregivers were helping Canadian families but, because of these long periods of separation, the caregivers’ own families were breaking down.
The faster and predictable processing that the government has promised should result to help solve this problem.
Now, some will argue that the backlog is the fault of the current government. Certainly, there is some merit to this argument as the backlog has grown under their watch. However, credit should be given to the government for correcting a problem that they created.
Room for improvement
While the changes to the caregiver program are generally positive, there is still room for improvement.
One of the biggest challenges that has not been addressed is the long wait times Canadian employers experience before a caregiver can come to Canada.
According to the government of Canada, the standard for approving caregiver applications is 16 months. What this means is that a Canadian family who needs a caregiver may have to wait 1 ½ years or more before that caregiver arrives in Canada.
For Canadian families in need of child care, elder care or care for family members with disabilities, a 1 ½ year wait is unacceptable. This is even more unacceptable when the service standards for all other temporary foreign workers — from CEOs to carpenters — is two months. Why should it take caregivers eight times longer to come to Canada?
While the immigration minister has stated that he is committed to bring caregivers to Canada more quickly, it can still take months before a caregiver is approved to come to Canada. While processing times have dropped, let’s hope that the immigration minister can continue to deliver on this commitment.
The other area that can be improved is facilitating temporary visas for a caregiver’s family during the first two years the caregiver is working in Canada. If this occurs, issues related to family separation will disappear.
Unfortunately, changes to the caregiver program have created two tiers of caregivers.
Because of the new rules, spouses of nurse caregivers may be able to obtain work permits that allow them to work for any employer in Canada while their nurse spouse is here. However, spouses of other caregivers would not be eligible for this type of work permit and would have to obtain a work permit through a much more difficult process.
Allowing family members of caregivers to come to Canada right away is the correct thing to do.
After all, Canada allows this for many other temporary foreign workers.
Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration lawyer with Aikins Law in Winnipeg.