Canada’s Broken Promises to Migrant Care Workers

—More Pilot Programs Not a Solution—
June 18, 2024

VANCOUVER — The federal government must ensure that just-announced pilot programs for migrant care workers are not the latest in a series of failed such programs, say researchers working with the Understanding Precarity in BC partnership.

The essential value of these workers must be recognized and the government must deliver on promised permanent residency upon arrival in Canada, they add.

Despite the government’s promise to offer permanent residency to migrant care workers applying to the new pilot programs, there are currently a large number of unprocessed applications from migrant care workers who face chronic uncertainty, prolonged family separation, continual precarious employment and economic insecurity, this new research shows. 

“When the federal Home Care Provider and Home Support Worker pilot programs were launched in 2019 they were supposed to provide a direct pathway to permanent residency, but five years later they have failed to deliver on that promise,” says Alicia Massie, a PhD Candidate at Simon Fraser University’s School of Communication.

"Data released by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada show that only 5,700 care workers and their families have become permanent residents in the programs’ five-year existence when these programs were supposed to provide a path to permanent residency for 5,500 workers per year." 

Canadians’ need for at-home care is increasing with our ageing population and wait times for care workers are currently longer than those for any other economic class of immigration applications with the exception of the start-up visa program and the Quebec business class program for investors and entrepreneurs.

And enforcing employment standards—ensuring workers are paid at least the minimum wage, that overtime is paid appropriately, that working hours are not excessive and that other basic rights are followed—is notoriously lax in this sector.

“Without adequate enforcement, employment standards violations often go unnoticed due to the isolated nature of working in a private home, the power imbalance between employers and employees and the precarious immigration status of workers,” says Anita Minh, a Sociology postdoctoral fellow at the University of BC.

For decades, migrant workers’ rights groups have advocated that immigration reform is the most effective policy change to reduce precarity for migrant care workers while enhancing the stability and availability of valued workers to meet Canada’s labour needs.

This new research uncovered startling delays within Canada’s immigration system.

“The federal government reports an average wait time of 31-36 months for care workers to receive permanent residency, which is triple the target processing time of 12 months,” says Jennifer Shaw, an assistant teaching professor in Sociology and Politics at Thompson Rivers University. 

“These painfully slow processing times and persistently poor working conditions underscore the systematic failure of Canada’s care worker programs.” 

Enforcing employment standards—ensuring workers are paid at least the minimum wage, that overtime is paid appropriately, that working hours are not excessive and that other basic rights are followed—is notoriously lax in this sector. Without adequate enforcement, employment standards violations often go unnoticed due to the isolated nature of working in a private home, the power imbalance between employers and employees and the precarious immigration status of workers, the researchers note. 

“Foreign domestic workers, caregivers and their long-time advocates have fought hard since 1979 for recognition in Canada and if they are good enough to work here, they are good enough to have permanent resident status upon arrival,” says Cenen Bagon, steering committee member of the Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights.

“The work is not over, but with these new pilot programs the government is taking a step towards decades’-long calls for justice.”

Among their recommendations to the federal government:

  1. Applications for permanent residency for all care workers, and their family members, should be processed for anyone who applied through prior care worker programs.

  2. Ensure that applicants to the new migrant care worker pilot programs are processed and approved in a timely manner and before arrival in Canada.

  3. Provide permanent residency to migrant care workers who have become undocumented due to overly stringent and/or shifting program requirements.

The newmigrant care worker pilot programs could be a major step toward eliminating barriers to permanent residency if, unlike prior programs, they do not by design abandon care workers, say these researchers whose work focuses on transnational migration, precarious work and gender.

The Understanding Precarity in BC Partnership, supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, aims to study the impacts of precarious work on the lives of British Columbians. The partnership involves four BC universities, 26 community-based organizations and more than 80 academic and community researchers and collaborators with deep connection to populations most impacted by precarity.

For more information and to arrange interviews please contact Jean Kavanagh at 604-802-5729, [email protected]

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