Diana Eladro’s job is looking after children. But she hasn’t been able to see her own in more than four years while she provides child care in Vancouver.

Eladro is one of more than 25,000 migrant caregivers working in Canada. Like many, she left the Philippines in search of better-paid work to support her family. Her plan, eventually, is to apply for permanent residency so she can bring her teenage sons to Vancouver.

“I’m doing this not just only for myself but for my kids,” Eladro said. “Here, there is a big future.”

Eladro is not alone. Since 2019, nearly 38,000 workers have applied for permanent residency under a pair of federal immigration programs for child and home support workers.

But so far, only 2,600 of them have succeeded.

Data obtained by The Tyee show the federal government has only processed less than 17 per cent of the applications to date.

While the program previously required workers have at least 24 months of in-Canada experience before they could gain permanent residency, nearly 10,000 pending applications are older than that. In total, there are more than 30,000 applications pending.

And most applications that have been processed did not result in a worker getting permanent residency. Nearly 60 per cent were either withdrawn or rejected, something advocates attribute to tough education and language requirements.

The Liberal government originally billed those immigration programs as a “a clear, direct pathway to permanent residence” and as an improvement on previous programs introduced by the Conservative government, which was also mired in delays.

They cover workers who provide in-home care for children and or personal care and support for adults.

But Cenen Bagon, an advocate for migrant caregivers since the late 1970s, says it has generally become even more difficult for the mostly female workforce to get permanent residency despite the growing need for workers to care for Canada’s elderly and young.

“It has been more and more difficult for caregivers to apply for permanent residency because of all the different requirements that are being demanded,” said Bagon of the Vancouver-based Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights.

The federal government introduced its Home Child Care Provider and Home Support Worker pilots in 2019.

At the time, that program allowed any workers with at least 24 months of experience in Canada to apply for permanent residency, and it allowed other caregivers to apply for a three-year open work permit to rack up that experience. The programs accept 2,750 applications each year. Government officials originally estimated processing times would be between six and 12 months

But it has struggled to meet those goals. A Toronto Star investigation from 2021 found that not a single permit was issued under either program for an 18-month period stretching from 2019 to late 2020.

This week, a government website estimated the average processing times for those programs at between 30 and 36 months, based on how long it took to close 80 per cent of cases in the previous six months.

Immigration minister Sean Fraser was not available for an interview, his staff said, because of travel. But he did recently halve work experience requirements for migrant caregivers seeking permanent residency from 24 to 12 months.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada also declined an interview request but provided a statement where they said were working to reduce the backlog through “digitizing applications, hiring and training new staff, and harnessing automation technologies.”

But Ethel Tungohan says the backlog is not the only issue with the program, as serious as it is.

Tungohan, a York Univerisity professor and the Canada Research Chair in Canadian Migration Policy, Impacts and Activism, has studied the history of migrant caregivers in the country extensively.

She says many caregivers who have worked in Canada for years may still struggle with other immigration requirements, like testing for competency in English or French or educational requirements. According to the data provided by IRCC, the leading reason that applications were refused under the two programs were because workers did not meet program criteria.

Tungohan says some of those requirements were tweaked under the federal Liberals but that they remain similar to the programs introduced by the Harper Conservatives years before.

“I think what’s here is a case of policymakers trying to align competing goals and making them fit into one program,” Tungohan said. On one hand, she said, politicians want to fulfill a growing demand for caregivers, particularly as Canada eyes a goal of dramatically expanding access to affordable child care. Last year, B.C. alone estimated it would need 10,000 early childhood educators to join the profession over the next decade. On the other hand, Tungohan said, existing programs still put a heavy emphasis on migrant workers being economically integrated.

“There seems to be a policy mishmash here that hasn’t been thought of,” Tungohan said.

In a written, unattributed statement, IRCC said language requirements are in place so that migrant workers are not taken advantage of and have the skills to leave their employer if need be.

But Bagon said that’s not the only program with the requirements. Many workers, Bagon said, require recognized post-secondary education to qualify for permanent residency under programs for caregivers.

But workers can only complete six months of professional training in Canada under temporary work programs, Bagon said, which means many would have to switch to a student visa to get that education.

“If they don’t have that level when they came, it will be hard for them to even go to school when they’re working, because they’re not allowed,” Bagon said. The result is that some workers are unable to get permanent residency, leaving them separated from families abroad.

“There are so many problems because of family separation that it has created,” Bagon said. “Who among us would like to be separated from our kids?

Milafe Buton began working in Canada five years ago. She said she was abused by a previous employer, who refused to pay her wages she was owed. She applied for compensation via the provincial Employment Standards Branch, she said, and was eventually paid out after switching jobs.

She says her new employer is generous but that she’s struggling to meet requirements to apply for permanent residency. She was considering applying for an international student visa, she said, to satisfy educational requirements.

Eladro, who completed a four-year education program in the Philippines, says caregiving is not unskilled work and is essential. But she argued some of the educational and language requirements imposed by the federal government were unfair to her peers.

Eladro has not yet worked the required 12 months in Canada to apply for permanent residency under the new rules. Ideally, she wants to apply soon so her sons, aged 14 and 15, can emigrate too. Under Canada’s immigration policies, they can be considered as dependents until they are 22 years old, something that makes it easier to gain status in the country.

Last month Eladro and Buton both appeared at a rally in downtown Vancouver asking the federal government to dramatically expand permanent residency to migrant workers in the country. They argue anyone good enough to work is good enough to stay.

“It’s not just only for me but for all,” Eladro said.

By Zak Vescera, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 21, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   The Tyee   Vancouver, British Columbia
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