INQUIRER.net

First Posted 08:38:00 12/17/2009

MANILA, Philippines—(UPDATE) Canada is set to adopt a law nicknamed after Juana Tejada, a Filipina caregiver who had fought hard to improve the situation of fellow foreign live-in caregivers, it was learned Thursday.

In the website of Canada’s Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism, Minister Jason Kenney on Saturday announced proposed regulations to better protect the rights of live in caregivers and to make it easier for them and their families to obtain permanent residence in Canada.

According to the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Toronto, of the 400,000 Filipinos in Canada, about 66 percent (or 264,000) are caregivers. And by the end of 2008, a total of 1,821 new hires were deployed to Canada as caregivers.

“Our government fully supports the ‘Juana Tejada Law.’ We propose to implement this change in her honor, to ensure that no one else has to endure this same painful experience,” said Kenney after extensive consultations with caregiver groups from across the country, as well as heartfelt testimony before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

The first proposed change to the Live-in Caregiver Program eliminates the requirement for live-in caregivers to undergo a second medical examination when applying to become permanent residents, a change advocated by the late Juana Tejada.

Tejada developed cancer while working as a live-in caregiver. She was initially denied permanent resident status when she did not pass her second medical examination.

It was only through special ministerial intervention that she gained status in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

According to Jonathan Canchela of Migrante-Ontario, the announcement is a great honor for Tejada and organizations like the Independent Workers’ Association which worked for improved working conditions for live-in foreign caregivers.

”It was Juana Tejada who exposed this ambiguity in the immigration system. She risked her status and fought the threat of deportation so that other caregivers like her could have better protection of their rights. It was she who, with the help of her lawyer Raffy Fabregas and numerous advocates and activists and the community in general, pushed the immigration officials to act in the right direction,” he said.

“If there is someone to be called ‘champion and hero’ for the gains caregivers just won, it was Juana Tejada. She is, in this sense, a true ‘champion and hero’ of the Filipino people in Canada,” he added.

More changes

Another proposed change will allow live-in caregivers who work overtime to apply for permanent residence sooner. Currently, live-in caregivers must work for two years within the first three years of entry into the program before they can apply for permanent residence in Canada.

Unfortunately, events such as pregnancies or loss of employment have resulted in some live-in caregivers not meeting the two-year requirement.

Under the new measure, live-in caregivers would be eligible to apply for permanent residence after 3,900 work hours, the equivalent of working a standard work week for two years.

Also, a portion of their overtime hours could count toward the work requirement and enable caregivers to apply for permanent residence sooner. Equally important, these changes would also increase the time that live-in caregivers are allowed to complete the work requirement from three to four years.

“These important changes help fulfill Canada’s duty to those who care for our young, our disabled and our elderly,” Kenney said. “The government of Canada is taking action to protect foreign workers from potential abuse and exploitation.”

Additional administrative changes to the program will also require employers of live-in caregivers to pay for:

* travel costs for live-in caregivers to come to Canada;

* medical insurance until live-in caregivers become eligible for provincial health coverage; and

* workplace safety insurance and any recruiting fees owed to third parties.

Employment contracts will have to spell out these employer-paid benefits. They will also have to include clauses clearly outlining job duties, hours of work, overtime and holidays, sick leave, and termination and resignation terms.

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), it will work closely with caregiver groups to improve information packages that live-in caregivers receive before they leave for Canada. CIC will also set up a dedicated live-in caregiver hotline.

Emergency processing of work permits and new authorization requests from employers to hire a live-in caregiver will help caregivers when they need to change employers urgently. Live-in caregivers will continue to be able to apply for study permits when they want to take courses longer than six months; they do not need study permits for shorter courses.

Stronger against erring employers

The announcement builds on recently proposed regulatory changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Employers found to have provided significantly different wages, working conditions, or occupations than they promised may be put on a blacklist making them ineligible to hire a live-in caregiver for two years under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Employers on this blacklist could be identified on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website in order to inform prospective and current temporary foreign workers of ineligible employers.

The Live-in Caregiver Program helps Canadians recruit caregivers to live and work in the homes of those they care for in order to provide child care or support for seniors or people with disabilities. The program facilitates the entry of qualified caregivers into Canada when there is a shortage of Canadians or permanent residents to fill available live-in caregiver positions. Because of Canada’s ageing population, the program is expected to grow in the years ahead. In 2008, Canada admitted 12,878 live-in caregivers.

The proposed changes to the Live-in Caregiver Program will be published in the Canada Gazette on December 19 for a 30-day comment period open to all Canadians. Final regulatory changes will be published after this period.

Kenney’s announcement came a few days after the Ontario Parliament passed Bill 210 into law. The new Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act bans employment agencies or recruiters from charging live-in caregivers placement or recruitment fees. It also prohibits the practice of taking a caregiver’s personal documents such as a passport or work permit.

”These initiatives—both federal and provincial—bring significant changes to the Live-in Caregivers Program. We say this is a victory for all caregivers and the community. Still let us not forget that implementation of these new measures requires our vigilant monitoring,” said Migrante-Ontario’s Canchela.

At the same time, he said efforts towards making further changes continue. These include making the live-in requirement optional, issuing job-specific instead of employer-specific work-permits, looking into acceptable wage rates, ensuring the safety and well-being of caregivers for the duration of their stay in the employers’ home, among other things.