Immigration programs for foreign caregivers: Failing both the caregivers and the Canadian families they seek to help


This guest article was author by Jacqueline Bonisteel, Partner at Corporate Immigration Law Firm

Picture a single woman who has just found out she is pregnant. She is a physician who works irregular hours. She knows it’s early days to be thinking about childcare, but she wants to be prepared, knowing that standard daycares won’t be able to accommodate her work shifts. She is interested in bringing a nanny into her home. She searches locally, and quickly realizes that the options are extremely limited. She begins looking into Canada’s program for bringing a foreign caregiver to Canada. She works with an agency and identifies a few candidates, interviews them, and identifies a young Filipina woman with the right work experience, training, and language skills. Over the course of a few months, they work together to gather the necessary application materials. The program is full for the calendar year, so they must wait until the new year to submit. They scramble to do so in early January, they get a spot, and they wait. And then, 9 months into that wait, IRCC announces that the processing time to obtain an initial caregiver work permit is approximately 33 months. The baby has already been born, and when the woman learns that her child will be almost 3 years old by the time the caregiver arrives in Canada, she reluctantly decides that she must abandon the process. Instead, she plans to reduce her hours to part-time so that she can put her child in a standard daycare.

Now picture the adult son of a parent who was recently diagnosed with a serious medical issue and suddenly requires round-the-clock care. The parent is adamant about wanting to remain in their home. The son and his spouse both work full-time and have a young family. They advertise for an in-home caregiver across Canada and come up empty. They then consider the foreign caregiver program. But when they learn it will be 2-3 years before the caregiver arrives, they abandon those efforts. They are forced to look into the long-term care home against the parent’s wishes, as it’s the only viable option.

This is the state of Canada’s foreign caregiver programs—the Home Child Care Provider and Home Support Worker Pilots. I have seen many similar frustrating and often heartbreaking scenarios play out in my practice. Canada’s Live-In Caregiver Program used to be a robust one, with high numbers of foreign caregivers entering Canada every year. To be sure, there were major flaws: the program left too much scope for exploitation of foreign caregivers, those who were dismissed by their sponsoring employers were unable to accept new job offers in Canada, and caregivers ended up separated from their families for years on end.  The previous program was discontinued and the new Home Child Care Provider and Home Support Worker Pilots were rightly intended to address those issues.

However, because the processing times are so lengthy, the new pilot programs are serving neither Canadians nor foreign workers. Given our aging population, the rise in the number of working parents, and current domestic labour shortages in these occupations, the demand for foreign caregivers is high and growing. Our foreign caregiver program is a vital one that, if functioning properly, would promote economic growth and societal well-being. But families simply cannot wait three years for a caregiver to arrive. And foreign caregivers also should not be asked to live in limbo for three years waiting for their application to process. When the foreign applicant finally does get approved for a work permit, chances are high that the employer supporting their application will no longer require their services. Nobody wins.

IRCC has stated that the lengthy processing time for the initial caregiver work permit can be explained by COVID-related factors, processing backlogs, and the more extensive background checks that are associated with permanent residence applications. But, if issuance of the initial work permits were made a priority, the processing time could certainly be brought down to under 12 months. Intake to each of the two caregiver pilot programs is strictly limited to only 2,750 applications each year. Not all applicants even require work permits, given that some have met their two-year Canadian work experience requirement at the time of application, and can proceed directly to permanent resident processing. Given these relatively small numbers, it is reasonable to expect IRCC to process the initial work permits far more quickly.

Another possible solution is reintroducing the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) process for the hiring of caregivers from overseas. This is currently barred, but would offer a sensible alternative to allow motivated employers to bring a foreign caregiver to Canada on a temporary work permit in a much shorter timeframe. The LMIA process is rigorous—to be approved, employers must establish that they first attempted to recruit domestically, and they must have clear arrangements in place for compensation, housing, working conditions, etc. Entering Canada on an LMIA-based work permit would not prevent a temporary foreign worker from transitioning to permanent resident status through one of the caregiver pilot programs.

IRCC can and must prioritize the caregiver programs and ensure that work permits are issued in a much more reasonable timeframe. In Canada’s current demographic landscape, our foreign caregiver programs are too important to be neglected.

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