Kristina Torres came to Canada in 2012, shortly after her father's death, hoping to support her mother and younger sisters in the Philippines by caring for the children of a Canadian family.
But Ms. Torres, who has been unable to work for months as she waits for a work permit, says she's a casualty of changes made to Canada's caregiver immigration program that were intended to better protect caregivers. Ms. Torres, 27, has been unemployed since last October, when she says she was fired without cause by her employer. In order to work again, she must first get a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), a process that now takes months.
"It has put me in a trap," Ms. Torres said. "I can't work. What can I do?"
She said she is not alone in this situation. She called on the federal government to grant caregivers permanent residency on arrival, which would bolster their rights and make it easier for them to leave employers that treat them unfairly.
Canada changed the rules governing the caregiver immigration program nine months ago, removing the requirement that caregivers live with the families that hire them but requiring more paperwork, including an LMIA, to prove the job had been widely advertised and no qualified Canadians could fill it. In the first months after the changes, documents obtained by a caregiver advocacy group showed that the number of approvals to bring in a caregiver from abroad dropped dramatically, by as much as 90 per cent.
"It's just a real mess right now. It's so much harder for families to hire," said Manuela Gruber Hersch of the Association of Caregiver and Nanny Agencies Canada. "Work permit applications are taking a long time, usually seven or eight months.
Ms. Gruber Hersch said it's her impression that the government wants to encourage employers to raise wages and hire Canadians for these jobs. But for those who come from abroad, she said, the new rules can inadvertently encourage a caregiver to stay in a bad employment situation because the time it takes to get approved for a new work permit will threaten her ability to work enough hours to apply for permanent residency.
Ms. Torres, who lives in Toronto, said in her case she found employers extremely reluctant to pay the $1,000 fee and then wait several months for an LMIA approval to hire her. She is currently waiting for an application to be assessed and hopes that if all goes well, she will reach the milestone of 24 months' employment, which would allow her to apply for permanent residency in Canada. But even that application would likely take years, as processing times are at 47 months, according to a government website.
"We are asking all political parties to take a stand on permanent residency upon arrival as the only policy that can rectify the abuses happening under the caregiver program," said Karina Francisco, co-ordinator of the Caregivers' Action Centre advocacy group. She said the overhaul of the caregiver program was designed to win Filipino votes for the governing Conservatives (a large majority of caregivers are originally from the Philippines), but it has fallen far short of expectations.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Teta Bayan, a Filipino caregiver who trained as a nurse and came to Canada after stints in the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia, has also found that employers don't want to deal with the necessary paperwork and processing fees. She said the changes imposed last year have made her situation more difficult, and she hopes the government will reconsider its policy.
"I came here to Canada full of hope to find a better life, not just for myself but for my family back home," Ms. Bayan said. "Canada has a great need for caregivers, from childcare [to] people with disabilities and elderly with higher medical needs."