Skip to main content

Canada's Immigration Minister Chris Alexander speaks during a news conference in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa January 28, 2014.CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

The future of Canada's live-in caregiver program, which allows families to bring nannies from abroad, is in limbo as the Conservative government says it is next in line for a shakeup.

The government is opting to leave the live-in caregiver program largely untouched for now, in spite of years of internal warnings from public servants that it has become a "hidden" family reunification program, particularly for Canada's Filipino community.

Internal documents show the Canadian embassy in Manila has been alerting colleagues since at least 2007 that fraud was an "ongoing problem" in the program and the absence of mothers was proving disruptive to families left behind in the Philippines, "causing infidelity, etc." Similar warnings were repeated in a 2011 report by Citizenship and Immigration, which noted that large percentages of nannies are brought in to work for relatives.

Live-in caregivers come to Canada through the temporary foreign worker program, but when Ottawa announced major changes last week, the caregiver component – as well as the rules for agricultural workers – was largely unchanged.

(What is the Temporary Foreign Worker Program? Read The Globe's easy explanation)

Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who has obtained extensive internal reports on the program via Access to Information, predicts Ottawa will announce this fall that it is phasing out the program.

"It'll be sensitive because of October, 2015," said Mr. Kurland, in reference to the impact it will have on Canada's Filipino community ahead of next year's federal election.

"It is going to be politically controversial within that particular community," he said, noting that Canada's Filipino community tends to live in hotly contested swing ridings. Hong Kong and Manila are the top two Canadian missions in terms of approving live-in caregivers. Mr. Kurland notes that internal documents show many of the workers approved in Hong Kong are originally from the Philippines.

Spots in the program are highly coveted abroad because after 24 months of working in Canada, participants and their dependents can apply to become permanent residents. No other aspect of the temporary foreign worker program carries that benefit for low-skill jobs.

Friday's sweeping changes to the temporary foreign worker program made little mention of the live-in caregiver component, other than to say it would be subject to a new $1,000 user fee, but would be exempt from new one-year limits on work permits and reductions in the total amount of time that a low-wage foreign worker can stay in Canada.

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander provided a vague answer Friday when asked where the program stands.

"We are not reforming it today … but we will continue to look at a reform in this area," he said. "And I would expect plans in that respect to come forward when they're ready. I can't say exactly when, but it will be an area of focus for us down the road."

Those comments are causing confusion in the live-in caregiver community, where some say there have been no signs of consultation on any looming policy changes.

"That really concerns me. As far as we know, they aren't consulting with any Canadian families," said Manuela Gruber Hersch, president of the Association of Caregiver & Nanny Agencies Canada, which represents employers of caregivers.

Ms. Gruber Hersch, who came to Canada from Austria as a nanny in 1985, said the program is open to abuse, but problems could mostly be fixed by having an arm's-length agency in charge of placing nannies with families.

The size of the live-in caregiver program peaked in 2007, when it allowed 12,955 people to enter Canada. In 2012, the program allowed 6,242 entrants.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe