For decades, Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) has made it difficult for caregivers – and impossible for other foreign workers – to become permanent residents. This approach has manifested in consistent and widespread complaints and well-documented cases of exploitation and abuse at the hands of employers and recruiters.
In June 2019, rights for caregivers took a leap forward when the Government of Canada announced that it will replace its problematic Caregiver Pilot Program with two five-year pilot programs that will strengthen migrant caregivers’ pathway to permanent residency and the flexibility to change jobs quickly and easily. Under these pilots, family members will be able to accompany caregivers through work and study permits. The government is also looking to amend the TFWP to allow occupation-specific permits instead of employer-specific permits. Such a change will allow all foreign workers to move between jobs within the same occupational classification.
In the same month, the Government of Canada announced regulatory a change in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act allowing immigration officers to issue open work permits to vulnerable migrant workers who are victims or at risk of being abused and exploited. This regulatory change will enable migrant workers to leave abusive work environments without fear of losing their status.
However, not all migrant workers are able to take advantage of these positive changes. Many migrant workers from overseas have become and remain undocumented, making their lives more precarious. It is morally and financially beneficial for the Canadian government to regularize their status so they can regain their dignity, receive full compensation for their work, pay taxes, and contribute to Employment Insurance and the Canada Pension Plan.
Many foreign migrant workers are from countries impacted by climate change. The House of Commons recently passed a motion declaring a non-binding national climate emergency in Canada, a step forward. Missing in the motion is the impact of climate change on forced migration.
Questions for Candidates:
- Will you and your party maintain and build on the progress made to date for migrant caregivers, and extend the same privileges to all migrant workers, including the right to apply for permanent residency after meeting all requirements?
- Will you and your party commit to the regularization of undocumented and non-status foreign workers?
- Will your party take the lead globally to recognize climate refugees and migrant workers, distinguishing them from “economic migrants”?
- Will you and your party commit to advocating for the creation of a binding United Nations document that recognizes and supports the rights of climate migrants/supporters?
KAIROS, migrant caregivers, and allied advocates have for years called on the Canadian government to grant permanent residency on arrival to all foreign migrant workers and their families. While the government’s announcement in June applies just to caregivers and will grant them full permanent residence status after working in Canada for two years, it is an important step in the right direction.
The new pilot programs replace the Caring for Children and Caring for People with High Medical Needs programs. By providing occupation-specific work permits, caregivers will be able to change jobs quickly and easily when necessary. Also, by allowing open work permits for spouses and common-law partners, and study permits for dependent children, caregivers’ families will be able to accompany them to Canada.
The new programs also address Canada’s commitment to uphold and protect migrant women’s rights through a much-needed process that enables workers to quickly change employers to escape abusive conditions without fear of deportation.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada also announced in March 2019 the Interim Pathway for Caregivers program for three months (March-June) then on June 15, extended it for another three months (July 8- October 8). The Interim Pathway is a one-off opportunity for migrant caregivers to apply for permanent residency under minimum requirements: completion of one full year of continuous work, passing the language test and a Canadian equivalent of high school diploma.
Foreign migrant caregivers serve Canadian families by providing professional care and compassion to children, the elderly and people with high medical needs. They also help fill a vacuum; often there are not enough Canadians to fill these jobs.
Despite their value to the Canadian economy, caregivers, like all foreign migrant workers, are subject to Canada’s temporary foreign worker programs, which are marred by consistent, widespread and well-documented complaints of exploitation and abuse at the hands of employers and recruiters. Also, the prolonged family separation caused by prohibiting family members from joining workers while they await permanent residency – often for years – creates stress and sometimes leads to marital breakdowns.
KAIROS applauds the Government of Canada for taking steps to alleviate the stress and concern experienced by so many caregivers. KAIROS is also pleased that the government has reduced the application backlog of approximately 30,000 migrant caregivers (as of December 2017) who applied for permanent residency by 94 percent.
Unfortunately, the 2019-20 federal budget makes no mention of the Caregivers pilot programs. While the announcement is a step in the right direction, resources are required to help all caregivers who are already in Canada transition into this new program, particularly those caught in bureaucratic red tape.
This summer, the Canadian government also proposed to amend the TFWP to allow occupation-specific permits instead of employer-specific permits. Such a change will allow foreign workers to move between jobs within the same occupational classification. Given the abuse and hardship associated with workers being tied to their employers, this change needs to happen as soon as possible.
Due to extreme weather events, prolonged temperature extremes and rising sea levels, more and more people, particularly in the Global South, are becoming climate refugees and migrating to places like Canada. For example, some foreign migrant workers in Canada left their homes because hurricanes devastated their countries. People in the Global South typically suffer the brunt of climate change despite their low carbon footprint compared with those in the Global North.
Those forced to leave their homes due to climate-induced events fall through the cracks of international refugee and immigration policy. The UN Global Compact for Migration, adopted n 2018, does not grant “specific legal international protection to climate-induced migrants,” according to Louise Arbour, the U.N. official who led the migration compact. As the number of climate refugees and migrants increases, it is imperative that countries like Canada work with global partners to secure a binding document that defines and protects this vulnerable group.