Article: Immigration Programs for Caregivers in Flux

A couple weekends ago when the Department of Immigration quietly added two short sentences to its website, it’s unlikely that they realized the uproar that they were about to create.  Those two short sentences stated that the Immigration Department would stop accepting permanent residence applications for the Caring for Children and Caring for High-Medical Needs programs on November 29, 2019 and that if foreign caregivers did not have two years of full-time work experience as a caregiver by then they wouldn’t be eligible to apply.

Upon seeing the posting of the new notice, immigration lawyers and caregiver advocacy groups wondered whether the Department was signalling the demise of a pathway to permanent residence for those working as foreign caregivers of Canada’s children, elderly and infirm. They worried that there were caregivers that had already come to Canada that would not be able to accumulate the necessary two years of work experience in time to meet the newly posted deadline and would effectively have no way to transition to Canadian permanent resident status.

Mere days later, on February 6, 2018, the Toronto Star published an editorial entitled “Don’t slam the door on foreign caregivers” arguing forcefully that foreign caregivers continued to deserve an opportunity to obtain permanent residency in Canada in return for their hard work.

Why was public reaction so swift? Part of the reason lies in the changing demographics of Canadian society. We’re living in a time that has seen the rise of the so-called Sandwich Generation, the generation that finds themselves squeezed in between caring for their children and their aging parents. Coupled with the fact that the cost and unavailability of childcare continue to be a major challenge for many Canadians, more people than ever are becoming aware that there is a systemic shortage of options when it comes to suitable care for our loved ones.

In my line of work, it’s common to hear Canadian families describe their foreign caregivers as “lifesavers”, unable to fathom how they would manage without them and often considering them to be an important part of the family.  Foreign nannies allow Canadians to maintain their place in the workforce and often allow both parents to return to work. Foreign in-home aides often allow Canadian seniors to remain in their homes longer, provide peace of mind to their adult children, and help to bridge the gap in the availability of long-term care.

Prior to its demise in 2014, the longstanding Live-in Caregiver Program was unique in the world.  Recognizing that there was a shortage of accessible childcare in Canada, the Live-in Caregiver Program encouraged individuals with experience or training to come to Canada to live with and work for a Canadian family as a caregiver; in exchange foreign live-in caregivers were all but guaranteed permanent resident status after completing two years of caregiving work. The promise of Canadian permanent residence was a significant incentive without which it would have been difficult to persuade many caregivers to endure separation from their own families for upwards of four to seven years.

On November 30, 2014, the government made sweeping changes to the Live-in Caregiver Program. The changes gave foreign caregivers more freedom by removing the requirement that they live in their employers’ homes.  In exchange, however, the government also introduced more stringent language and education requirements for those applying for permanent residence under the two new replacement programs: the Caring for Children Class and the Caring for High Medical Needs Class.

When the new Caring for Children Class and the Caring for High Medical Needs Class were implemented, the official Ministerial Instructions that created them indicated that they would be effective until November 29, 2019.  This expiry date, however, was not well publicized and the sudden notification of these programs’ expiry was likely unexpected by many and was therefore interpreted as an impending closure of the pathways to permanent residency for caregivers.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen has since addressed the caregiver issue in the House of Commons.

“Let me be clear. Our government will continue to ensure a pathway for permanent residency for caregivers. In fact, we are conducting an assessment of the existing programs to improve them.” Minister Hussen stated on February 8, 2018.

Building on this reassurance by Minister Hussen, the terse two sentence notice that was initially placed on Immigration’s website has also been expanded upon, now indicating that “the Government is committed to ensuring that caregivers continue to have a pathway to permanent residence” and that details of any new pathways will be announced well before the expiry of the current programs.

The government appears committed to ensuring that caregivers continue to have a way to become permanent residents, although it remains to be seen whether the incoming programs will make it easier or more difficult for foreign caregivers to achieve that status.  At least one thing has been made clear over the past couple of weeks: the work that foreign caregivers perform is highly valued by Canadian families and the government would be well served to ensure that they are treating our foreign caregivers fairly and with respect.

McCuaig Desrochers LLP, a general practice law firm with Edmonton’s largest group of immigration lawyers (www.mccuaig.com).  This article first appeared in the February 2018 edition of the Millwoods Mosaic – the Multicultural Voice of Southeast Edmonton and is intended to provide general information only and should not to be relied on as legal advice or opinion.  We invite you to contact one of the members of our experienced immigration group for assistance.

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