Caregivers shouldn’t necessarily get to stay

Our bulletin this week is a re-print of a column that appeared in the British Columbia daily, “The Province”.

Caregivers shouldn’t necessarily get to stay
By Martin Collacott,
Guest Columnist,
The Province June 4, 2013

Recent reports on the abuse suffered by live-in caregivers from overseas, and in particular the case of Leticia Sarmiento, underline the need to protect the rights and ensure decent working conditions for such workers.

The live-in caregiver program itself, however, also requires a thorough review and overhaul in view of the questionable premises on which it is based.

Live-in caregivers are, in fact, the only temporary foreign workers who are virtually guaranteed permanent residence in Canada if they can stick it out for two years here in the jobs for which they are hired. In effect, the program ensures that the caregiver will be able to stay here permanently and bring in their family members without having to meet the usual requirements for those coming here as members of the economic class.

Who benefits from this arrangement and who do not?

While the caregivers may have to work long hours at low pay – and some employers are obviously better than others in this regard – they are usually prepared to do almost any of the work demanded of them in order to get permanent status without having the qualifications normally required. Their employers are also happy with the arrangement since the prospect of being granted permanent residence here spurs on the caregivers to put in long hours at low pay if necessary.

Who does not benefit? The answer to this is Canadians in general. While the program is popular with a limited number of households – in many cases upscale working couples with young children, who can afford to bring in help from overseas – it is quite likely to be costly to Canadian taxpayers in general since the latter have to pay for the social services and other benefits accruing to caregivers and their families after they get permanent status. And since they did not have to meet the requirements of economic immigrants, there is a good chance their earnings will be low enough that the benefits they receive from the public purse will be greater than what they pay in taxes. As one government document wryly noted, the economic benefits (for Canada) are “marginal.”

In the circumstances, the program has been increasingly popular, with a seven-fold increase in the number of caregivers, who along with their family members, have in recent years been able to use it to obtain permanent status in Canada. They increased from just under 2,000 in 2002 to nearly 14,000 in 2010, with another 29,000 awaiting processing of their applications in that year.

Apart from the cost of the program to Canadian taxpayers, other serious problems have been identified. According to internal government documents obtained through access to information requests, two of the immigration offices where many of the applications are made – Manila and Chandigarh – have seen a major proliferation of local caregiver schools that exist either in name only or have questionable standards. Many appear to have been created solely for the purpose of men – which is odd in societies where care-giving is seen as women’s work.

Yet another problem noted by Ottawa is that between 40 and 70 per cent of the caregivers come to work for family members in Canada, which means, in effect, that it functions to a large extent as a back-door family reunification program. This is underlined by the fact that many caregivers apparently leave the profession once they obtain permanent status here.

This, in turn, raises questions as to whether the program is really meeting an ongoing labour-market need or simply functioning as a means of immigration to Canada by individuals who wouldn’t otherwise qualify. The fact that there are sufficient Canadian caregivers willing and able to meet the demand for live-out home care also raises doubts about the extent to which the program is needed.

All things considered, the live-in caregivers program should be strictly a temporary-worker program and not a channel to permanent residence. It makes no sense to allow people to stay here permanently and have their families join them when they cannot meet normal immigration requirements. By the same token, it is important that the government put in place explicit standards and guidelines to ensure that live-in caregivers receive reasonable treatment from their employers in Canada and that they have clear recourse in the event they do not.


Martin Collacott, a former Canadian ambassador who lives in Vancouver, is a spokesman for the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform.

( )