Government changes live-in caregiver program, does away with the 'live-in' part

OTTAWA – A long-awaited overhaul of the program that brings thousands of caregivers to Canada every year will remove the requirement that they live with their employers.

The change is part of an effort to reduce caregiver abuse but also clear a backlog of some 60,000 cases that have seen caregivers stuck waiting as long as a decade for permanent residency and to be reunited with their families.

The live-in requirement feels like modern-day slavery, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said he was told over the course of designing the new program.

“We are saying to the whole Canadian population, to caregivers above all, the time of abuse and vulnerability is over,” Alexander told a news conference in Toronto.

“We want caregivers to participate fully in the economic life of this country without having to fear for their treatment in forced living conditions.”

In addition to removing the live-in requirement to qualify for permanent residency, the changes will split the path to that goal into two streams: one for child-care workers and one for those working as health-care aides.

A total of 5,500 applications for both per year will be accepted and they will be processed within six months.

At the same time, the government is nearly doubling the number of caregivers and their families who will be granted permanent residency in 2015 to 30,000 from about 17,000 this year.

But the changes weren’t universally embraced. Liza Draman, a one-time live-in caregiver from the Philippines, wasn’t impressed, warning that the annual cap of 2,750 applications for the child-care stream is too small and will hurt working families.

“We know that caregivers make work possible for both parents, so what do you expect if one parent cannot go to work — what will that mean for the economy of Canada?” Draman said.

“We need both parents to earn; this will have a chain reaction and have an economic impact.”

The live-in caregiver numbers form part of the overall immigration plan for 2015, which sets a target of taking up to 285,000 new permanent residents, an increase of about 19,000 people over last year’s goal.

The focus remains squarely on economic immigration, which is about 65 per cent of the total.

Students and temporary foreign workers seeking to settle in Canada permanently may have the best chance at nabbing a spot: spaces in the Canadian Experience Class program are set to jump to up to 23,000 from last year’s maximum goal of 15,000.

The program fast-tracks permanent residency for people who are already in Canada as part of other programs, including the controversial temporary foreign workers program, which is undergoing an overhaul.

The government is also set to admit more federal skilled workers, aiming for 51,000 people as it revamps the entry program to bring them to Canada.

Though more economic immigrants are being admitted, spaces for family class immigrants and refugees are being held stable even as the government pledges to do more to bring over those escaping the brutal conflicts in the Middle East.

Alexander has faced persistent criticism over a perceived failure by the government to honour a 2011 commitment to resettle 1,300 Syrian refugees in Canada by the end of 2014.

On Friday, he said more work is being done on those files, with an announcement expected soon on taking additional refugees.

“There is a dynamic of growth in our refugee resettlement performance reflecting the scale of the challenge in the world.”

— With files from Lee-Anne Goodman