Live-In Caregiver Program Revised: Implications for Equity

Unpacking Equity is a collaboration between the Public Policy and Governance Review and the Gender, Diversity and Public Policy Initiative (GDPP) at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. This series aims to explain equity-related policy issues and break down complicated topics involving equity, diversity and inclusion. Policy professionals can gain a better understanding of these complex issues in order to incorporate an equity lens into their practice. To learn more, please get in touch with the GDPP.

By Hiba Siddiqui

The Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) has been offered by the Government of Canada since 1992 and has been popular among Canadian families. The program provided relatively affordable and flexible child care for working parents as well as elder care for an aging population. Under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), a component of LCP, foreign in-home caregivers were offered eligibility for permanent residency at the end of the ’live-in’ period.

In October 2014, the Harper government announced significant changes to the Live-In Caregiver Program (LCP), including the creation of new conditions for permanent residency and removal of the requirement to ‘live-in’ the employers’ residence. Despite these changes, there were many barriers to caregivers’ mobility and restrictions on sponsoring their family members to immigrate to Canada. Additionally, concerns over caregivers being trapped in abusive workplaces brought to surface equity concerns relating to inconsistent working standards for care work in Canada, as well as the its implications about security and residency.

In early 2019, the Trudeau government announced a New Caregiver Program to be piloted over a period of five years. This new program is to replace the previous Live-in Caregiver program that was cancelled in November 2018. The new pilot program builds from the old program as it makes improvements to address the gaps identified by scholars.

Demographics of Caregivers in Canada

According to research conducted by the Centre for Global Social Policy, Canada’s live-in caregivers are overwhelmingly female.  Like many traditional female oriented jobs, care work is precarious, under-compensated, and reflects gender inequalities. Historically, women have supplied care work for free within families, which has created a culture that seems to exacerbate the issue.  Although the Live-In Caregiver Program has granted many migrants with a path to permanent residency, the conditions of their work still do not reflect the importance of care.

Based on the Toronto Immigration Employment Data Initiative Report,  the LCP has been made up primarily by individuals from the Philippines but in recent years, arrivals from India have increased. The LCP has witnessed significant growth, increasing from just 3,303 in the year 2003, to 12, 454 in 2009. Moreover, compared to the program’s start in the 1990s, live-in caregivers entering Canada in recent years have greater education credentials. In 2009, majority of LCP applicants held a bachelor’s degrees, compared to only 5% of applicants in 1992. This highlights the attractiveness of the program to highly educated people, who otherwise would not be involved in care work. 

Previous Program Shortcomings

In the Fall of 2018, Care Worker Voices for Landed Status and Fairness, a report published by a coalition of caregiver advocacy groups, described foreign caregivers struggling with family separations, experiencing difficult and sometimes abusive work environments, and dealing with a complex bureaucracy. The coalition called the system fundamentally flawed and pushed for modifications that would improve working conditions for caregivers and allow them to stay with their families. 

Over the past 20 years, an emerging body of literature has begun to shed light on the experiences of live-in caregivers in Canada.  A significant portion of the research has focused on the reinforcement of gendered and racialized exploitative working conditions and the ensuring distress on families. The research has also examined the ways in which live-in caregiver integrate in Canada’s society. For example, in a 1997 study by Steill and England awhere 18 in-depth interviews were conducted with caregivers from various countries, the female caregivers who identified as white experienced better hours and little to no housework in comparison to non-white caregivers. Other scholars have emphasized how some women under the Live-In Caregiver Program are valued more than others based on their race.

New Program  

On February 23, 2019, the Trudeau government announced the launch of two new immigration pilot programs that allow caregivers and their families to come to Canada while also offering them the opportunity to become permanent residents.

The two new five-year programs will provide caregivers with greater flexibility to change jobs quickly, if needed. Barriers that prevent caregivers’ family members from coming with them to Canada will also be removed such as restrictions on work permits and accessing occupational licenses. Open work permits will be offered to their spouses or common-law partners as well as study permits for children. Under this new model, foreign caregivers will no longer have to leave their families behind and will be pre-approved for permanent residency in Canada.

The federal government will now assess applicants for permanent residency before they arrive and work in Canada. Once they obtain a work permit and have two years of work experience, they will have access to a direct pathway to become a permanent resident. A total of 5,500 principal applicants will be permitted annually, and family members will not count toward the cap. An interim pathway for Caregivers program is also being launched for caregivers who arrived in Canada after changes made in 2014 and is said to open from March 4 to June 4, 2019.

While caregivers recognize the improvements of the new programs, they still believe that the it fails to address many concerns. Permanent residence status is still not receivable upon arrival, which they believe is the root cause of exploitation in care work.

Progressing Towards Labour Equity

Concerns with care economies are only expected to grow in future. As David Cohen, senior partner at the Campbell Cohen Canadian immigration law firm, notes “As Canada’s population ages, foreign caregivers are becoming more and more essential in this country and it’s great to see Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada acknowledging the fact Canada also has to take care of them and facilitating family reunification.” With the new pilot projects underway, Canada is demonstrating its commitment to caring for caregivers. While many improvements are underway, this is only one step towards fairness. We must make constant effort to respect foreign care workers and improving labor equity for all.

Hiba Siddiqui is a 2019 Master of Public Policy Candidate at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from University of Toronto. Her policy interests include urban and social policy. In her free time, you can find Hiba in museums or photographing intricacies of the city.