February 19 is Family Day in the Province of Alberta. It is a public holiday. Since it is the first holiday in the middle of the cold, winter months, many Canadian families use this opportunity to bond, get away to a warmer location or just hang out in the house and watch a couple of movies. For many migrant caregivers, not only is this holiday a chance for them to be with their families physically, it also gives them a longer time to be with their families virtually. Skype, Viber, Facebook, Messenger and many more social media platforms are being used by migrant moms to communicate with their own families that live thousands of miles away.
“I take care for other families and other children but I cannot take care of my own family. I can’t take care of my own children,” laments Cecile. A live-in nanny, Cecile have been separated from her family for six years. She worked in Hong Kong for four years prior to coming to Canada. She has been waiting for the time that she can be eligible to apply for permanent residency. Like many caregivers, Cecile has been patiently collecting all the documents needed so that she can be reunited with her own family.
Processing times for permanent residency means that some caregivers are separated from their families for up to ten years. There are caregivers who find themselves missing their children’s entire childhood. We know the irony of caregivers helping Canadian families while their own families are breaking apart because of the problems in the program. Faster processing promised by the government has not solved the backlog problem.
Family reunification in Canada has always been a dream for migrant workers. That has been the case for Filipinos since the 1980s. Before the Live-in Caregiver Program, there was the FDM or the Foreign Domestic Movement, which recruited women to work as domestic helpers in upper middle class families. There were a few Filipinas who were part of that program at that time but it predominantly drew in women from the Caribbean. In 1992, Citizenship and Immigration Canada changed the program into the LCP or the Live-in Caregiver Program, which was more restrictive. Three of the major restrictions were: mandatory living in an employer’s home, caregivers needing to complete 24 months in the program before being able to apply for permanent residency and only being allowed to stay with one employer at a time. Changing employers meant that a new LMO or Labour Market Opinion (a government document that an employer needs in order to hire a nanny) would be required.
As we all know, the program has once again gone through major changes. In 2014, then immigration minister Chris Alexander, and Minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney started restricting the applicants of the then Live-in Caregiver Program. They accused the caregivers of using the program as a “family reunification” program. They imposed new restrictive language and post-secondary education requirements. The former conservative government also made changes to the cap on how many caregivers would be allowed to come to Canada to 5,500. They also raised the LMIA fees to $1,000.
Alexander and Kenney’s policy significantly reduced the successful applicants. According to the Toronto Star, 20 per cent, or 555 caregivers out of 2,730 applicants, were granted permanent residency in the country in the last three years. In 2016, the Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), formerly known as Citizenship and Immigration Canada scrapped the Live-in Caregiver Program and changed it to a newly repackaged Caregiver Program. The live-in requirement was removed. However, it has had very little effect on the caregivers because many employers are looking for live-in nannies. Other than recently removing the $1,000 LMIA fees, not much has changed.
The future of Canada’s foreign caregivers is gloomy. IRCC is currently reviewing its Caregiver Program. In the meantime, their website indicates that they will stop accepting applications for the permanent resident program by November 29, 2019. This created panic among caregivers.
Many caregivers dream to be reunited with their families, hoping that the long separation, long working hours and hardship will be worth the wait. This Family Day, while they continue to care for their employer’s children and be a large part of their lives, they are limited to being a virtual figure to their own children on the other side of the world. Who will take care of our caregivers if this government won’t?