Canada moves to sort out caregivers’ immigration backlog and processing

Of note:

Canada will prioritize the immigration processing of foreign caregivers so qualified applicants can get their permanent residence sooner or obtain work permits to come and care for Canadian families more quickly.

Under a plan unveiled Thursday, the immigration department said, it will finalize by Dec. 31 the permanent residence applications for as many as 6,000 eligible caregivers already in the queue.

With that status finalized, such workers will be able to reunite with the spouses and children many have left behind in order to work in this country.

Officials are also committed to rendering decisions on at least 1,500 applications under two recently created caregiver programs — Home Child Care Provider and Home Support Worker pilots — by June 30.

The stepped-up effort to address the backlogs in caregiver processing came after the Star reported more than 9,100 caregivers eligible for permanent residence were waiting for their status, while only five applications had been processed under the new pilot programs since their 2019 inception.

Of those, four were withdrawn and one was refused, meaning no one had been authorized to come under the designated immigration program for foreign caregivers.

“Immigrant caregivers, who take care of our families and elders, are often separated from their own families, and the pandemic has significantly slowed down permanent residence application processing, keeping them apart from their families longer than we would have hoped,” Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said in a statement.

“We’re getting caregiver immigration back on track, which will help reunite front-line heroes with their loved ones.”

Many caregivers who have applied for permanent residence have been trapped in their old caregiving jobs despite having met the in-Canada work experience requirement. That’s been the result of government delays in issuing “acknowledgment of receipt” letters. The department now vows all qualified applicants will get theirs by May 31.

The immigration department says it is also planning to speed up and increase the digitization of caregiver applications so they can be processed remotely by officers, most of whom are currently working from home due to COVID-19 lockdown.

Canada has relied on foreign caregivers to look after our children and elderly. To entice foreign workers to take up the jobs that few Canadians have been willing to do, the Live-in Caregiver Program, which ran from 1992 to 2014, provided what’s called an automatic pathway to permanent residence. It allowed them to pursue permanent status here in exchange for the work they put in and the sacrifices they made.

The scheme has gone through multiple changes since 2014 with new language and education standards as well as an annual cap on the number of caregivers who could take advantage of the program.

Immigration data obtained under an access-to-information request found that the number of caregiver permanent-residence applications in the backlog matched an all-time high.

According to the immigration department, there were permanent residence applications for about 12,000 caregivers and their accompanying family members in the system, including those under the new pilot programs introduced in 2019.

Source: Canada moves to sort out caregivers’ immigration backlog and processing

Nanny state? Hardly. Canada has left its foreign caregivers in a stalled system that’s derailing lives, critics say

Likely more than COVID slowdown at play:

The system that is supposed to help foreign nannies and care workers build a new life in Canada is, simply put, a hot mess.

That’s the conclusion of caregivers, their advocates and their lawyers, two years after reforms were brought in by the federal Liberal government.

Just how bad are things?

Until this past November, over an 18-month period, not a single work permit was issued under two new pilot programs. Meanwhile, there’s a backlog of at least 9,100 applications for permanent residence. That matches the kind of numbers that government saw back in 2017, when the processing time was known to be as long as five years.

Some say new data shows applications were moving at a snail’s pace even before the COVID-19 lockdowns reduced the immigration department’s processing capacity last year.

There’s more.

The system is ensnarled in six overlapping programs. Critics say the pathway for foreign caregivers is far from clear and secure, and that added language and higher education requirements may end up slowly phasing out what has been a unique immigration approach that set foreign caregivers apart from other temporary foreign workers.

“We’ve said time and again these changes were not going to work,” said Vilma Pagaduan, a longtime advocate for foreign caregivers in Toronto.

“Things were bad even before the pandemic.”

For decades, Canada has relied on foreign caregivers to look after our children and elderly.

To entice foreign workers to take up the jobs that few Canadians were willing to do, the Live-in Caregiver Program, which ran from 1992 to 2014, provided what’s called an automatic pathway to permanent residence, allowing them to pursue permanent status here in Canada in exchange for the work they put in and the sacrifices they made.

The scheme has gone through multiple changes since 2014. The former Conservative government eliminated requirements that workers live with their employers, but imposed new language and education standards as well as an annual cap on the number of caregivers who could take advantage of the program.

It also raised the employers’ application fee.

The fee was later removed by the Liberal government, which in 2019 introduced the two new pilot programs. The Liberals changed caregivers’ work permits so they could freely change jobs as long as they stayed in the caregiving occupation. The government also moved to grandfather those caregivers already in the system so they could pursue permanent residence in spite of the changing requirements.

Under the Conservatives’ and Liberals’ reforms, temporary foreign workers who were already in Canada but did not come here through the caregiver programs could also apply to the programs and access the pathway for permanent residence if their experience fit.

When the Liberals announced the changes in early 2019, they said they had reduced the backlog in processing caregiver permanent residence applications by 94 per cent and shortened the processing time to 12 months.

Immigration officials said the changes had been made after extensive consultation with the community.

“Caregivers provide a vital service for many families and, like any other worker in Canada, they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity,” said department spokesperson Rémi Larivière.

“We value their critical contributions, which is why we’re removing barriers and keeping families together by allowing their family members to work and study in Canada.”

But the latest numbers don’t show the success story for which many might have hoped.

Ottawa received a total of 13,230 permanent residence applications from foreign caregivers between January 2019 and November 2020, according to new data obtained by Vancouver immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens.

Only 4,140 were processed and the approval rate was 74 per cent.

And, among the applications received, 4,206 or 32 per cent came under the Liberals’ two new pilot programs. Officials processed only 279 — or less than seven per cent of them. Some 69 per cent of those were approved.

As of Nov. 27, the total number of permanent residence applications in the backlog stood at 9,094 applications — surpassing the 9,000 cases in the backlog in 2017.

The permanent residence backlog does not even include someone such as Merynold Magallanes, who came under the old Live-in Caregiver Program.

The Filipino woman was brought to Canada by an Oakville family of five in 2013 before any of the changes to the caregiver programs. She applied for her permanent residence three years later after fulfilling her two-year full-time live-in employment requirement.

She was refused in 2017 because of a consultant’s mix-up, and her divorce paper and police clearance certificate were missing from her application. She reapplied in 2018 but pulled out because she was told the elder of her two daughters was too old to be a dependant child and should be dropped from her application.

Magallanes then enlisted the help of a lawyer and submitted a third application in August 2019. Over the years, she’s kept renewing her work permit to maintain her status in Canada and keep her hope for permanent residence alive.

That decision has cost her years with her family.

“I have only visited my two daughters (now 23 and 24) once since I came to Canada in 2013 because I need to save all my money to support my family in the Philippines,” said Magallanes, who also provides for her widowed mother, her nieces and nephews, and occasionally her siblings.

“We work hard so our kids can have better opportunities here. Life is easy in Canada if you work hard. Back home, life is hard even if you work hard.”

Pagaduan, the advocate, said caregivers working in Canada suffer from prolonged family separation as they await the processing of their permanent residence applications.

The work itself is no picnic. Sometimes they have to put up with abusive work conditions due to their precarious immigration status.

The changes made to the caregiver scheme are confusing and the new requirements for post-secondary education and language tests have created additional hurdles and further bureaucracy, she noted. Furthermore, language test results, medical and police clearances do expire and have to be redone if applications are not processed in time.

“Applicants need to get their credentials assessed and must pass the English test. They have to keep renewing their work permits until they get permanent residence,” said Pagaduan. “All these cost money.”

Unlike the previous programs, the Liberals’ two pilots do offer the opportunity for caregivers to bring their dependants with them to Canada from the outset and mean that they are no longer restricted to working for one specific employer.

“These pilots make it easier for caregivers to quickly switch employers, provide open work or study permits for their immediate family members so that families can come to Canada together and create a clear transition from temporary to permanent status,” said Larivière, the department’s spokesperson.

“We will continue to work closely with the caregiver community to make further improvements to the system.”

However, Vancouver immigration lawyer Deanna Okun-Nachoff said that these improvements are meaningless if no foreign caregivers are getting their work permits to come to Canada under the new programs.

“The program has been there since June 2019,” said Okun-Nachoff, who helps a lot of caregivers in her legal practice.

“I have not seen one work permit approved and I have applied for many.”

According to the government data, the immigration department received 1,055 new work permit applications under the recent pilot programs in 2019 and 2020 (up to November). Only five were processed: four were withdrawn and one was refused.

Meanwhile, 4,234 work permits were issued to general temporary foreign workers who were listed as caregivers under their occupation code. These could be work permit holders who initially came as international students or were admitted in other occupations.

Given that the programs are a pathway to permanent residence, immigration officials said work permits under the current pilots can only be issued after permanent residence eligibility has been thoroughly assessed. Hence, the processing speed is compromised.

“As you know, global migration has been upended by the pandemic. Yet we’ve taken quick action and come a long way since the onset of the pandemic, while also managing lockdowns at processing offices within Canada,” Larivière said.

While the old live-in caregiver program took a long time for applicants to get permanent residence due to the overwhelming demand, Okun-Nachoff said it was the most straightforward scheme: one automatically qualified when the two-year live-in requirement was met. The permanent residence grant rate hovered above 90 per cent then.

Critics say the Conservatives’ program was flawed because caregiver work permit applicants were admitted without being assessed under the new education and language requirement they needed to become permanent residents. Hence, many only found out later that they couldn’t qualify for permanent residence.

While the Liberals’ changes were meant to address these problems, the new programs are “mind-bending” and muddied the whole caregiver scheme even further.

“People complained about the changes made by the previous government, but what we’re seeing is worse. Before they were able to come in, now we can’t even get them in (under the caregiver programs),” said Manuela Gruber Hersch, a co-founder of the Association of Caregivers and Nanny Agencies Canada.

“An aging population and lack of national child care are two of the greatest challenges of our government, so why are they not prioritizing the caregiver programs?”

The bottleneck in processing work permits for overseas caregivers could lead to caregiver shortages in Canada as in-Canada caregivers become permanent residents and seek other job opportunities, Hersch warned, and it would ultimately kill the designated caregiver program.

Last year, as a result of the pandemic, Canada saw the overall number of permanent residents admitted to the country nosedive by 45.7 per cent, to just 185,130, from 2019, far below its 340,000 target.

Last month, in anticipation of another potential shortfall, Ottawa invited 27,332 people in one draw to apply for permanent residence — five times more than its previous high of 5,000 — 90 per cent of the invitees were already living in Canada.

Francia Rafallo, who came to Canada in 2017 under the Conservatives’ caregiver programs, applied for permanent residence under the interim pathway in 2019 and has been waiting in queue since, so her husband and their two sons can join her here.

She says it’s an affront to the caregiver community that their immigration applications are not being prioritized even though the pandemic has shown caregivers are providing an essential service to Canadians.

“Canada has accepted a lot of other immigrants, approving international students and other workers. It is unfair that foreign caregivers are left behind,” said Rafallo. “We are taxpayers, too, and we are not treated equally and fairly. There’s been no improvement.”

York University professor Ethel Tungohan, who has researched extensively on labour migration, said it’s short-sighted for Ottawa not to prioritize caregiver applications — whether it’s for permanent residence or work permits — especially in the wake of the pandemic.

Many caregivers do become personal support workers and even nurses, she said.

Tungohan, who is the Canada Research Chair in Canadian Migration Policy, Impacts and Activism, has been part of multiple consultations under both the Conservatives and Liberals but said there’s always lip service paid to the value of care work.

“What this whole exercise is showing is that regardless of the government in power, care work remains undervalued. These changes that are put in are meant to improve the lives of caregivers. It’s sad that they are actually making it harder for them to come and get citizenship,” she said.

“All caregivers want is to be treated like other immigrants to Canada and be able to come and live with their families.”

Source: Nanny state? Hardly. Canada has left its foreign caregivers in a stalled system that’s derailing lives, critics say

Canada needs a permanent fix for its abuse-prone caregiver programs

Lou Janssen Dangzalan is an immigration lawyer who works with home care workers, healthcare workers, and international students.

Possible expansion of Express Entry stream for caregivers?

Last week, Migrant Rights Network, an advocacy group advancing the cause of migrant justice, published a report titled Behind Closed Doors, which documented the challenges faced by Canada’s foreign care workers. The abuses are not new, but the pandemic has made them worse: accounts ranged from gruelling 12-hour work shifts with no days off, to wage theft. Some involved workers barred from leaving their employer’s house – becoming virtual prisoners – for fear of bringing COVID home. As these temporary-work permit holders depend on their employers to secure permanent residence (PR), they generally do not speak up.

The report advocates PR status for all migrant workers, which would give them more options to work for other employers, but it’s unlikely that this will happen owing to the current high bar to qualify. But there are concrete steps the government can take to prevent these abuses by creating clear and predictable pathways to permanent residence for our care workers.

Many governments in the past have unsuccessfully tried to find a solution to the abuses faced by migrant care workers, who will endure mind-boggling abuses for PR status because this allows them to bring their family to Canada These abuses remain a black eye on Canada’s reputation as a country that claims to uphold human rights and fight modern-day slavery.

The Live-In Caregiver Program introduced in 1992 allowed a foreign national to apply for PR after working in Canada as a caregiver for two years. It remained until 2014, when the Harper government introduced two pilot programs – Caring for Children and People, and Caring for People with High Medical Needs – to address the abuses that had started to be uncovered by the media. These pilots removed the “live-in” requirement, meaning that caregivers were no longer required to reside with their employers, which was thought to be one of the major causes of abuse. The Harper pilots also introduced higher language and education requirements.

Confused with all the changes? So are the caregivers – and there’s more. The latest occurred in 2019, when the Trudeau government implemented new pilots: Home Child Care Provider, and Home Support Worker. These programs prescreen would-be caregivers for permanent residence before they receive their work permits. The purpose is to sift out caregiver candidates who would not qualify for PR through some form of inadmissibility. They also implemented an interim program designed to eliminate the backlog from the legacy Live-In Caregiver Program. However, the Interim Pathway for Caregivers’ introduction was abrupt and it was open only for two brief windows of three months each in 2019, and did not clear the backlog. Reintroducing this program in a meaningful way would address that problem and buy the government some time to put together a more effective immigration program for caregivers.

Today, the Trudeau pilot programs prescreen caregiver applicants for permanent resident status, allowing workers who complete the two-year program to quickly qualify. However, this new requirement is leading to longer processing times. PR screening requires a stricter security, background, and health check compared with those applying for a work permit. Depending on the visa office in a caregiver’s home country, the time added to process an application could be in the order of months, or worse, years. This renders the programs untenable for most employers. Someone who needs a caregiver cannot wait that long.

Two days after the release of the Migrant Rights Network report, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced Canada’s plan to welcome 1.2 million permanent residents in the next three years. As the government will undoubtedly have trouble fulfilling its ambitious target of 400,000 new PRs in 2021, they should prioritize those who are already in Canada, including caregivers, who do not enjoy PR status. Such a move would increase Ottawa’s chance of meeting that target.

A clear and sustainable long-term caregiver program must be developed. Government must do away with flimsy pilot programs that only confuse our caregivers. There is a clear demand for caregivers in Canada and the vocationdeserves its own permanent place in the immigration system.

One approach would be to piggy-back the caregiver program under the Express Entry system. Express Entry, Canada’s main intake system for economic immigration, is seen as a huge success, especially from the government’s perspective. The government can create a class or program under the system similar to the Federal Skilled Trades program and ensure that there are caregiver-specific Express Entry draws from the general pool of candidates.

This would create predictability and transparency in the system. Successful government programs already exist that can serve as blueprints to ensure quick deployment. Mr. Mendicino has shown an openness to revamping our immigration system in the face of once-in-a-century challenges such as COVID. If he succeeds in finding a tenable solution to the caregiver immigration mess, it would be a legacy he would leave that ends decades of abuses, exploitation and failed pilot programs.