Migrant care workers are demanding PR status on arrival… Now what?

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Pradip Rodrigues

Last week an email with a logo screaming ‘LANDED STATUS NOW’ caught my attention. It was an email from the Migrant Workers Alliance which announced the release of the “Care Worker Voices for Landed Status and Fairness” report.

The bold headline of the press release was ‘We are living in fear and limbo, we need Landed Status Now!’. Show this headline to anyone around the world and they’d probably think the report was about migrant workers in the Middle-East, but well, this is a report about Care Workers in Canada.

When a care worker in Kerala or in the Philippines applies for a job in the UAE, they know they are going to be separated from their families for the period of their employment and they do so because often they are the primary bread-earners. About 8,000 new Care Worker permits are issued by Canada and unlike the care workers who opt for the UAE, care workers coming to Canada as a means to bringing across their families in a few short years. There are pathways for caregivers to gain PR status but they have to satisfy the criteria. The rules for economic class migrants are strict and require a certain level of education and language proficiency. They would think it is unfair if a class of immigrants could gain PR status with less stringent language requirements. The problem is that not every caregiver is qualified and the system has generated unrealistic expectations and they could be married to functionally illiterate spouses and with families to support, they could well end up in poverty and join the growing legion of working poor. Because of these stringent requirements there are thousands of caregivers across Canada whose PR status is in limbo.

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The caregiver program was never meant to be an immigration stream, it was created to address the need for caregivers for families with small children or elderly and sick patients. Unlike private companies who bring in highly-skilled professionals, the caregiver program caters to mostly middle and upper middle class families who would certainly not afford to pay the kind of wages full-time employees could expect in private companies. This is why there is such a need to bring in low to semi-skilled caregivers willing to work for wages that are below- average in Canada but a very good income by certain third-world standards.

Successive governments have changed or tinkered with the rules around the caregiver program to prevent abuse but it has only made things worse. No caregiver coming to Canada thinks of it as a temporary work situation and now there are demands from activists to issue permanent residency on arrival! This is getting ridiculous. What next, let caregivers bring in their families at the same time? Why not make it easy for them to switch employers or even careers?

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Well, here’s the thing, if that were ever to happen, a large number of caregivers would opt for non-caregiver jobs that would leave sponsoring families in the lurch. Only rich Canadians who could afford to pay much higher wages would be able to afford caregivers.

I am willing to bet that a good percentage of former caregivers aren’t working in the same field after gaining permanent residency. One caregiver I know worked for a family down my street for five years until she could sponsor her family. Last I heard she promptly resigned and now works in a factory along with her husband. Her caregiver days are clearly over and it was simply a means to an end.

There are also calls from left-wing activists who believe that the 50,000 farm workers who enter Canada every year should also be given a pathway to PR status. Their logic is that by 2025 the there will be a need for up to 114,000 seasonal workers and if Canada needs these workers who come in under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) or the Temporary Agricultural Workers Program (TAWP) they should be allowed in with their families.

The only trouble is that if this wish was granted, it is unlikely that a majority of these farm workers would opt to work on a farm but would rather move into the GTA and do something else.
Meanwhile Care Workers are calling on Canada to replace the broken Caregiver Program with a new program that will end precarious status, forced family separation, and exploitative working conditions while improving access to the critical care that Care Workers give to all Canadians.

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To call wages paid by families to caregivers ‘exploitative’ is not fair. And to say that this program causes ‘forced family separation’ is frankly ridiculous. Just for sake of argument, live-in caregivers are provided lodging and meals by the family, if they were to bring in their families, where would they live and would the caregiver’s income qualify her and her spouse to rent another dwelling? Chances are a good number of families would end up being reliant on some form of social assistance and most certainly affordable housing.

The activists demanding reform to the program are demanding the government create a new permanent immigration stream for migrant Care Workers, and in the interim creating open work permits, removing discriminatory language, educational and medical requirements, and granting permanent residency to workers in the country.

With left-leaning activism in the western world now a potent force to reckon with, there could well be a time when groups dedicated to migrant justice like No One Is Illegal could well have their way. Film maker and activist Michael Moore proclaims on his twitter feed: ‘No one is ‘illegal’ on stolen land.’

But if this is the case, then all immigrants living on stolen land are ‘illegal’. -CINEWS

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