Briefing Note: An analysis of the recently reformed Live-in Caregiver Program in Canada [Updated]
December 15, 2014
by Salimah Valiani, PhD
The recently announced reform of the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) may be lauded for one key change: elimination of the live-in requirement for temporary migrant caregivers entering Canada. This is a demand that has been made by live-in caregivers, feminists and trade unionists for at least three decades. In eliminating the live-in requirement, the government of Canada is finally acknowledging that a host of abuses occur when workers are forced to live with their employers, including forced overtime, under or unpaid overtime, excessive charges for room and board, and sexual abuse. In the text of the current reform, government explicitly acknowledges that the live-in requirement has kept the wage of temporary migrant caregivers artificially low. In turn, government assumes that with the lifting of the live-in requirement, the wage for carework will increase thereby drawing-in more Canada-based workers and lowering demand for temporary migrant caregivers. This assumption is problematic, as discussed below. Additionally, it should be noted that temporary migrant caregivers may elect to live with employers regardless of the lifting of the requirement given that carework is poorly remunerated and living independently is costly when added to other obligations typically carried by migrant workers including recruitment fees and remitting money to family back home. While stating in the reform that workers may elect to live with employers who will not be permitted to deduct room and board from wages, government does not provide for a means of enforcement to ensure that this and other abuses do not occur after migrant care workers arrive in Canada.
Though as many feared, the option to apply for permanent residency after completing two years of carework in Canada has not been totally eliminated, it has been significantly narrowed. As of 2016, the time by which government hopes to have cleared the backlog of over 30,000 applications for permanent residency filed by LCP workers over the past several years, the number of caregivers on temporary work permits to be accepted as permanent residents upon completion of the program requirements will be limited to 5,500 principal applicants per year. Examining the number of temporary migrant workers entering Canada under the LCP in the past several years (Table 1), the new cap of 5,500 is cause for concern. Though not steady, the number of LCP workers granted entry to Canada has exceeded 5,500 by at least 1,000 for most years since 2003. This is a reflection of the need for caregivers in a country where publically-provided, affordable care for children, the elderly and the ill is in severe shortage. This shortage is unlikely to fade given shrinking public spending in most provinces and nationally.
Table 1. Entries of LCP workers, 2002-2013
|Entries of temporary migrants under the Live-in Caregiver Program||4,664||5,007||6,624||7,103||9,050||12,930||11,848||8,740||7,521||5,878||6,242||4,671|
Source: Facts and Figures – Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2013
LCP workers are known to wait one year or more for the processing of permanent residency applications after completing the program requirements. Taking into account the estimated 30,000 caregivers waiting for processing of permanent residency applications, combined with the number of LCP workers granted permanent residency since 2008, the new cap is significantly below the number of permanent residencies granted under the LCP in the last six years for which data is available. (Table 2) In more detail, for analytical purposes, dividing evenly over the six year period the estimated 30,000 backlogged LCP permanent residency applicants, and adding that figure (i.e. 5,000 per year) to the number of LCP workers actually accepted as permanent residents since 2008, the cap of 5,500 is of further concern. As shown in Table 2, the new cap on permanent residency for caregivers is equal to about half of the permanent residencies to have potentially been granted to LCP workers since 2008 had a backlog not been accumulated.
Table 2. Permanent Residency granted to Live-in Caregivers and Unprocessed applications, 2003-2013
|Live-in caregivers, principal applicants granted permanent residency||2,230||2,496||3,063||3,547||3,433||6,157||6,273||7,664||5,033||3,690||4,845|
|Estimated LCP workers with unprocessed permanent residency applications||5,000||5,000||5,000||5,000||5,000||5,000|
|Estimated permanent residencies granted annually under the LCP||11,157||11,273||12,664||10,033||8,690||9,845|
Source: Facts and Figures – Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2012, 2013, and figures computed by author
Perhaps the Canadian government has set a very low permanent residency cap for caregivers because it hopes to allow far fewer temporary migrant caregivers to enter Canada under the reformed program. To elaborate, in eliminating the live-in requirement, government assumes that demand for temporary migrant caregivers will fall. This assumption is likely based on the idea that under the more stringent ‘labour market impact assessment’ (LMIA)brought in under the larger reform of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, employers will be expected to raise the wage offered for carework to attract Canada-based workers. However, given that carework is historically undervalued in Canada, it is unclear that employers will be prepared to raise the wage to the extent required to draw in Canada-based workers, particularly for home-based carework. In such a scenario, access to temporary migrant caregivers will be politically determined, as in the recent case of Microsoft, which the federal government has permitted to hire temporary migrant workers without undergoing the purportedly more stringent LMIA which would have obliged Microsoft to fill available positions with Canada-based trainees at relatively higher wage levels.
In closing, the 2014 reform of the Live-in Caregiver Program is problematic in several ways. In maintaining the two year requirement of ‘Canadian work experience’ as a condition for permanent residency for temporary migrant caregivers, it allows for the carrot-stick relationship between employers and temporary migrant caregivers to continue. In capping the number of care workers to be accepted as permanent residents, the reform invites division and competition among workers already difficult to organize given their precarious immigration status. In toto, the continued carrot-stick relationship, the new permanent residency cap, and the new training requirement that caregivers must complete one year of Canada-based carework training (or prove s/he has gained its equivalent elsewhere) while fulfilling the two year requirement of full-time carework in Canada – render yet more improbable the ‘promise’ of permanent residency for temporary migrant caregivers in Canada. An acceptable reform of the LCP would include, at minimum, immediate permanent residency for all temporary migrant caregivers (and other migrant workers needed in Canada), a legislated, living wage for all care workers in Canada, and adequate public spending to create regulated, care programs for all in need.
 The cap does not include the permanent residencies to be (potentially) offered to family members of caregivers.
 This is a preliminary figure according to CIC Facts and Figures 2013.
 Home-based carework is the most undervalued form of carework in Canada, whether related to caring for children, the elderly, or the very ill. See “Valuing the Invaluable – Rethinking and Respecting Carework in Canada”, at http://www.ona.org/documents/File/politicalaction/ONAResearch_ValuetheInvaluable_201205.pdf
 For details on this story see “Microsoft gets green light from Ottawa for foreign trainees”, at http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/foreign-workers-microsoft-gets-green-light-from-ottawa-for-foreign-trainees-1.2870289
 For elaboration of the ‘carrot-stick’ relationship, see “The Shift in Canadian Immigration Policy and Unheeded Lessons of the Live-in Caregiver Program”, at https://www.ccsl.carleton.ca/~dana/TempPermLCPFINAL.pdf
 For an extensive exploration of the challenges and possibilities of mobilizing temporary migrant workers, including domestic and care workers, see “Mobilizing Temporary Migrant Workers – A Compendium of Forms and Preliminary Discussion”, at http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/1014.php