Government overhauls foreign caregiver programs

By Andrew Carvajal

On June 18, 2019, the Canadian government introduced major reforms to immigration programs designed to bring foreign caregivers to Canada and allow them to transition to permanent residence. While the changes are generally positive and welcomed by most stakeholders, they encompass significant reforms that impact foreign caregivers and their employers.

Prior to these changes, employers looking to hire foreign caregivers were required to apply for a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to Employment and Social Development Canada. This is a complex process whereby the employer advertises the position in Canada (paying at least the median wage for the location of employment) and demonstrates that there are no qualified Canadians willing to take the job. If the LMIA process was successful, the foreign caregiver would use the approved LMIA to apply for an employer-restricted work permit to immigration authorities.

Once in Canada — and after gaining two years’ of relevant work experience — caregivers had the opportunity to apply for permanent residence under two former caregiver pilots. Under the former process, both steps (the work permit and permanent residence) were separate. It was not necessary for a caregiver to apply for permanent residence after arriving in Canada, and they could apply for a work permit even without meeting all of the requirements to apply for permanent residence.

The new five-year pilots introduced on June 18 are the Home Child Care Provider Pilot and the Home Support Worker Pilot. The first is designed for caregivers who care for children (i.e. nannies), while the second is designed for home support workers who assist ill or disabled people with activities of daily living (excluding housekeepers). These are the only two groups of caregivers eligible for processing under the new pilots, leaving out registered nurses, who were eligible for permanent residence under the former caregiver pilots.

The two new pilots are also a direct path to permanent residence. Instead of having employers apply for an LMIA first, followed by a work permit application and then an application for permanent residence, caregivers and their families now apply for permanent residence from the start. If they already have two years of Canadian work experience in the occupation, immigration authorities process their permanent residence application right away. If they do not have the experience, caregivers are given a temporary occupation-restricted work permit to complete the two years’ experience. Spouses and minor children are also eligible for work and study permits to come to Canada while the caregiver completes the work experience.

The new process is seen as a victory by caregiver advocate groups on several fronts. For one, while caregivers still need an original job offer to apply under the program, their work permits are no longer tied to one particular employer. This means they do not have to stay in abusive job settings for fear of losing their status in Canada. Unlike before, caregivers can also bring their family members while they complete the required Canadian work experience.

A downside of having to apply for permanent residence at the outset is that all foreign caregivers need to meet certain language and education requirements, regardless of whether they intend to apply for permanent residence. This includes a post-secondary degree of one year or more. Those who do not meet such requirements can no longer apply for a work permit.

As is the case of every immigration reform, there will be winners and losers with the rollout of the new caregiver programs. We are, nonetheless, relieved to see that the government recognizes that there is a lack of caregivers in Canada and that we need to take advantage of global mobility to remedy that shortage.

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