When Maria Rabino left her family in the Philippines to come to Canada as a live-in caregiver, she imagined her three children would join her in a few years, in time for high school.
That was 2005. Seven years later, Rabino’s eldest — just 10 when she left — is almost old enough for university and Rabino still has no idea how long it will take for the family to be reunited.
Rabino’s expectation was not an unreasonable one. Live-in caregivers come to Canada
from abroad to care for children or seniors. After they have completed 24 months of work in the field, they are eligible to apply for both an open work permit, which allows them to work in any field, and permanent resident status, which enables them to sponsor their families to join them.
Waiting times for open work permits, which used to be up to two years, have been reduced to a few months thanks to changes introduced by the federal government in December, but permanent residence application processing times have increased in recent years, said Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokeswoman Caroline Hickton in a statement.
Figures provided by the department suggest the time it takes to process permanent residence applications for live-in caregivers in Canada increased to 24 months from 21 months between 2010 and 2011; and to 29 months from 24 months for applications processed overseas. This is mainly due to a surge in the number of live-in caregivers who entered Canada between 2007 and 2009, Hickton said, adding the government is cutting the number of caregivers it allows in each year in an effort to deal with the backlog.
But the permanent residence process is taking considerably longer than that, said Vancouver Kingsway MP Don Davies, whose riding is home to many of the mainly Filipino women who come to Vancouver as live-in caregivers. Most are separated from their families for an average of seven years, he said.
“I miss my children when I go to Ottawa for four days. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be separated from your children and your spouse for years,” he said. “The rate of divorce, the family breakup, the trauma suffered by children, the psychological damage is incredible and well documented.”
The long separation has taken its toll on Rabino’s relationship with her husband and children.
“You could imagine … their teenage years that I am not with them,” Rabino said of her children, now 17, 16 and 13, who she said are constantly asking her when they will move. “It’s so hard … I feel so bad. But, you know, I keep it on myself. I have to fight, I have to survive here for my kids.”
According to the government’s Hickton, Rabino received confirmation she had fulfilled the requirements of the live-in caregiver program in November 2008. The delay in processing her permanent residency application occurred because Rabino was late paying right of permanent residence fees — which Hickton said should have been submitted with her initial permanent residence application — and responding to government requests for information.
Rabino disputes that, emphasizing that she and her family were always watching for any communication from the Canadian government and responded to requests right away.
The immigration department confirmed receipt of her permanent residence fee in November 2011, but by that time Rabino’s background check — valid for a year — had expired and visas for the family could not be issued, Hickton said.
During the waiting period, the family’s immigration medical exams — also valid for a year — expired twice. The family’s passports also expired during this time.
The medical exams cost $100 per person and require the family to make an overnight trip to the city in the Philippines, Rabino said.
Immigration Canada requested that the family undergo a third medical exam in April, according to Hickton.
“Currently, CIC is waiting on the results of the new background check for Ms. Rabino. As well, the mission in Manila has requested that Ms. Rabino’s dependants undergo new [medical exams] and renew their passports.”
Live-in caregivers say such bureaucratic delays are typical. Some have started a petition, signed by more than 1,000 people, calling on the government of Canada to cut the red tape that keeps families separated and to shorten the processing times for permanent residence applications.
In an effort to reduce the strain on families posed by long periods of separation, the NDP advocates allowing caregivers’ families to come to Canada with them and that anyone over 16 be granted work permits, Davies said, noting that the live-in caregiver program is Canada’s only temporary-worker stream deliberately designed to result in permanent residence.
“You know that the woman … is going to sponsor her husband and children,” he said. “You know they’re coming. The only question, policy wise, is when.”
Caregivers should have the option of accepting less money if they choose to live off-site with their own families, since they are not taking room and board from their employers, Davies said.
But Hickton said this would defeat the purpose of the program.
“The live-in requirement is important to employers in need of this service since live-in caregivers offer the highest flexibility of care. The people that live-in caregivers assist often have special needs and may require their services during unusual hours or on short notice,” she said.
By Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun
June 2, 2012
If you would like to hire a nanny or caregiver, please contact International Nanny and Homecare Ltd. in Canada for qualified nannies.