OTTAWA — The federal government is making it easier for foreign live-in caregivers to stay in the country once their contract is up, but an industry leader is warning the new policy could cause a serious caregiver shortage.
Immigrants with live-in caregiver visas will now be able to obtain an open work permit 18 months sooner, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Thursday.
Already, about 14,000 live-in caregivers have been given open work visas since the policy was changed, the minister’s press secretary confirmed Thursday.
Open work permits allow caregivers to seek another job, if they choose, when their two-year live-in caregiver contract is complete, without losing their permission to be in Canada.
“Too many live-in caregivers have completed their work obligations but must continue living in the home of their employer, waiting for their application for permanent residence to be reviewed,” said Kenney. “This is understandably frustrating.”
The Live-In Caregiver Program allows Canadian families to hire caregivers from abroad to live in their home and care for a child, an elderly person or a disabled adult when there are no Canadians available for the job.
Those in the program need to work for 3,900 hours or two years before they are eligible to apply for permanent-resident status.
Until now, however, they could not look for other work while they waited for initial permanent status approval — which, with the current backlog, typically takes about 18 months.
Kenney said the new policy accelerates the processing time by 18 months. Live-in caregivers now get their open work permit as soon as they can apply for permanent status.
The new policy is a result of consultations Kenney had with live-in caregivers on how to prevent them from being exploited, the minister’s press secretary said on Thursday.
“Minister Kenney is concerned with the treatment of live-in caregivers in Canada,” wrote Candice Malcolm in an email. “People in this program sometimes face difficult situations, such as those described in the front-page abuse allegations against then-Liberal-MP Ruby Dhalla.”
Two years ago, Dhalla made headlines when a former nanny alleged she “was mentally tortured and physically stressed” by long work hours and insults in the family household.
Since the program began, similar allegations have surfaced in other parts of the country.
The new policy is a welcome change to better protect live-in caregivers, said Manuela Gruber Hersch, president of the Association for Caregiver and Nanny Agencies in Canada, a group that seeks to set ethical standards for the caregiver industry.
“It gives (live-in caregivers) a lot more freedom,” she said.
But Gruber Hersch said Canadian families will need to brace themselves for what she predicts will be a rapidly dwindling supply of foreign nannies.
“We will see and we already have seen a growing shortage of caregivers, live-in and live-out,” she explained. “Once they get their open work permits, the vast majority will move on to other industries . . . They’ve done their 24 months and they want to move on.”
The shortage is already happening, she said.
Gruber Hersch said she recently heard from a B.C. caregiver placement agency which already has received notices from six nannies.
The new policy is unprecedented, said Toronto immigration lawyer Rafael Fabregas.
Although he welcomes the change, Fabregas said he is suspicious of the federal government’s motivation.
“It’s bizarre,” said Fabregas. “It’s bizarre how they can announce this type of a policy after basically doing nothing for the past year-and-a-half and accumulating all these applications.”
Along with the massive backlog of permanent residence applications, the wait time for live-in caregivers crept up over the past year-and-a-half, to almost 20 months from six months, said Fabregas.
“Now they’re basically creating a policy to kill a backlog that they created, in a way making themselves look good,” he said. “I just think all of this doesn’t pass my smell test. It reeks, quite frankly.”
Fabregas said the policy raises a lot of other questions. He wonders what will happen now for other immigrant groups, such as sponsored spouses, who are still awaiting a decision on their permanent status without open work permits.
“Is the immigration department now going to . . . start issuing them work permits upon application?” he asked.
As for a mass exodus of live-in caregivers looking for jobs in other industries, Fabregas said it’s too soon to tell.
“Are caregivers suddenly going to start leaving that job for greener pastures in a climate where unemployment is slowly creeping up? I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not convinced that that’s what going to happen, but I could be wrong.”
If it does happen, Fabregas said Kenney will need to put on his thinking cap to figure out the government will fill the gap.
New Democrat MP and immigration critic Don Davies said the new policy is a step in the right direction.
But it still fails to solve another problem, he said — the fact that many live-in caregivers must leave their own children and spouses behind in their home country. They are only allowed to sponsor them to come to Canada once they receive permanent residency.
“It’s ironic because we’re bringing women . . . from around the world to come here and look after our children, separating many of them from their own children,” said Davies.
Since the vast majority of live-in caregivers end up getting permanent status, Davies said there’s no reason to delay the sponsoring process.
If you would like to find a caregiver or nanny job in Canada, you can fill out this International Nanny Agency nanny caregiver application form.