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Immigration Minister Jason Kenney speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Nov. 3, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Nov. 3, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe Editorial

Canada needs more caregivers, please Add to ...

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s plan to accept 10,000 more skilled workers into Canada next year is a sound one, and so is the government’s overall target of 255,000 newcomers. Some other changes make less sense, and may be motivated by politics, more than economics.

Mr. Kenney acknowledged that the seven-year backlog to sponsor grandparents and parents has become unmanageable, and announced a two-year moratorium on applications. In the meantime, however, he will increase the quota by 10,000 over two years, to 25,000, and introduce a two-year multiple-entry visitor’s visa for these family members.

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To compensate, there will be a lower quota in other categories, including live-in caregivers. The target is 8,000-9,300, compared to 10,500-12,500 in the past two years.

Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Why would a country with a declining fertility rate and the expected mass retirements of baby boomers want to recruit yet more older people? “The government has it backwards,” says Sergio Karas, an immigration lawyer.

While family reunification is a goal for Canada’s immigration program, family-class newcomers already make up two-thirds of all those accepted. Parents and grandparents are unlikely to create economic growth and will have more health needs.

Live-in caregivers are a category that should be expanded. They perform a key role in the labour market: caring for children in a country with no national daycare policy, and looking after the elderly. There is already a shortage of quality care for the aged, a problem that will grow in years to come with the country’s demographic shift.

Canada’s live-in caregiver program is unique in the world, and allows caregivers to apply for permanent residency after living with a family for two years, caring for either children or the aged. It has real weaknesses, such as long application-processing times, abusive employers and nannies being recruited for “fake” jobs, but the program itself remains sound.

The government would be wise to put resources into having it run more smoothly, and make sure that well-qualified caregivers are recruited to bona fide jobs and that their permanent residency applications are processed in a timely fashion. As the population ages, Canada will need more of them.

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