"It's an early Christmas gift," says an advocate of one of the largest Filipino caregivers groups in the Greater Toronto Area.
Ms. Faye Arellano, lead volunteer of the Caregivers' Ministry under the Archdiocesan Filipino Catholic Mission (AFCM) at Our Lady of Assumption Church, was referring to a major policy change announced in Ottawa yesterday by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
"It is a welcome and encouraging news to a lot of caregivers and advocates especially around this special season of hope. Thanks to Minister Kenney," she states in response to questions emailed to her.
Ms. Arellano said the change will "at least give caregivers an option to seek gainful employment elsewhere especially after they have upgraded themselves." However, she warns, " it doesn't make their status permanent and no reunification with their family either".
That policy now allows live-in caregivers to move out of their employers, seek work elsewhere and apply for permanent residence upon completion of 3,900 work hours or approximately two years' service.
“The change I have announced today (Dec. 15) will help caregivers settle into their new life in Canada while they wait for their permanent resident applications to be processed,” Minister Kenney said in a statement released by his office.
The relaxation of the rules is expected to benefit thousands of caregivers, not excluding Filipinos, who have entered Canada through the live-in caregiver program (LCP), which obligated caregivers to work for two years after which they're eligible to apply for permanent residents.
Judith Gonzales, a co-founder of the First Ontario Alliance Caregivers Canada (FOACC), agreed that the policy change was "indeed a very good Christmas gift".
"It's a big relief specially for those who were forced to stay with their employer after applying for permanent residency. One more thing, it also saves caregivers $150. not renewing their work permit," she adds.
As it is now, the program allows Canadian families to hire workers from abroad to provide care for a child or family member.
“Too many live-in caregivers have completed their work obligations but must continue living in the home of their employer, waiting for their application for permanent residence to be reviewed,” Minister Kenney states.
“This is understandably frustrating. That’s why we have started issuing open work permits to live-in caregivers as soon as they have completed their obligations and submitted an application for permanent residence,” he adds.
Mr. Kenney's office explained that the number of caregivers accepted as permanent residents corresponds with the number who came to Canada as temporary foreign workers (TFWs).
In Niagara, Filipino caregivers felt "a triumphant joy" upon learning of the modified policy.
"We are indeed overwhelmed by the positive changes in the Live-in Caregiver program," says Lea Joy Gardingan, co-chair of Caregivers Niagara, in an email to this reporter.
"This new policy is a triumph for every caregiver. As a caregiver myself, I know that having an open permit signifies freedom and hope. For years, caregivers were like hungry dogs waiting for their time to be fed," Gardingan stresses adding that "we can now breathe and taste the sweet aroma of freedom".