The government of Canada has announced a range of reforms to what has until now been known as the Live-In Caregiver Program. Reforms had been anticipated for some months, but the scope of the changes announced by Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander, go beyond what might have been expected. These changes aim to give more opportunity for caregivers to become permanent residents of Canada, while ensuring that workers’ rights are upheld.
“Live-in” provision no longer mandatory
The main change is that the “live-in” aspect of the program, which required caregivers to live with their employers, is now optional. The government of Canada recognised that, in some cases, this requirement had led to exploitation of workers. For example, complaints were made against certain employers that forced caregivers to work overtime for no extra pay.
Moreover, the previous regulations for this program ensured that caregivers had living expenses such as accommodation, food and utilities taken from their pay. The recent reforms provide a complete turnaround on this front, with employers now unable to dock expenses for room and board from a worker’s compensation.
It should be noted that caregivers may still live with their employers and that, in the majority of situations, no complaints are made about such an arrangement. In cases where exploitation did occur, however, Minister Alexander said he heard complaints from caregivers who said the live-in requirement felt like “modern-day slavery” to them. “They told me they felt they couldn’t complain and that they weren’t paid overtime. Imagine being forced to sleep where you work and having your wages garnished for room and board. We’re putting an end to that. We’re providing caregivers with a choice,” said Alexander.
Two new categories for caregivers to apply for permanent residence
The other fundamental change to the caregiver program sees the creation of two new categories for caregivers working in Canada on temporary work permits to seek permanent residence.
One pathway to permanent residence will be for childcare providers. The other will be for caregivers who take care of the elderly or those with chronic medical needs. Caregivers will still have to work full-time for two years before being eligible to apply under these new categories. The Canadian government will aim to process applications within six months, in line with the Express Entry immigration selection system due to come into operation on January 1, 2015.
Until now, it could take more than three years to process permanent residence applications made by caregivers. In the meantime, many caregivers have been separated from their families who they have left behind. Only after they attain permanent resident status can caregivers apply to bring family members to Canada. The faster processing of applications made by caregivers should therefore facilitate speedier family reunification, as principal applicants should attain permanent resident status quicker than before.
The live-in caregiver program, as it was then known, was excluded from reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program announced by the government in June of this year. Employers wishing to hire nannies or caregivers under the new categories, however, will still have to complete a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to prove they could not find a Canadian worker to fill the job.
Reducing the backlogs through caps
Foreign caregivers are eligible to apply for permanent residence after two years of work in Canada, and a recent report confirmed that there are more than 60,000 individuals waiting for permanent resident status under the caregiver program. With this in mind, the government of Canada has chosen to cap the number of new applications to be accepted for assessment. Each of the two categories will have an allocation of 2,750 places, for a total of 5,500 applications per year. Spouses and dependent children of principal applicants will not be included in the caps.
Minister Alexander said the government is already on track to eliminate 17,500 applications by the end of 2014 and will eliminate the backlog further by processing 30,000 applications in 2015. These figures were outlined in the government’s immigration plan for 2015, announced last week.
Two-year work requirement remains in place
Advocates for caregivers in Canada, as well as some opposition politicians, had sought either a reduction in the length of time a caregiver must work in Canada before he or she may make an application, or for caregivers to be able to land in Canada and attain permanent resident status on arrival. The government has resisted the urge to change this requirement, and therefore it remains in place as before for the time being.
“These belated changes will certainly be welcomed by foreign caregivers already working in Canada and their families, as well as by the people under their care and the communities they have settled into,” says Attorney David Cohen.
“These changes provide more choices for caregivers and offer peace of mind. Employers will no longer be able to dock room and board from workers’ wages or make them work overtime without compensation. Caregivers may now also — I hope — find it easier to reunite with their families. It’s a very positive development, though one that took too long to come about.”
The government of Canada’s 2015 immigration plan, outlined last week, provides for an increase in the number of economic immigrants accepted by the government of Canada next year. The caregiver program comes under this category.
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