Every year, thousands of women come to Canada to work as caregivers for Canadian families. The majority of these women come from the Philippines and must complete 24 months of work in four years before they are eligible to apply for Permanent Residence in Canada. On April 3, 2018, the Women’s Centre hosted a Social Issues Discussion on the situation of these migrant women who come to Canada to work as caregivers.
The discussion focused on how Canada’s immigration system creates inequality between different categories of migrants. For example, caregivers, as ‘low skilled’, temporary, foreign workers are not able to bring their families to Canada until after they have completed the mandatory conditions of their work and after they gain Canadian Permanent Residency. Those in the ‘high skill’, temporary, foreign worker program are able to bring their families with them. This has gendered implications, as most ‘low-skilled’ workers are women, while most ‘high skilled’ workers are men. Approximately the same number of temporary work permits are issued each year as the number of people granted Permanent Residence in Canada. This means there are a large number of people working in Canada without full legal status, or access to the same services and support as those with Canadian Permanent Residence.
Two women who had come to Canada as Live-in Caregivers: Nellie Alcaraz and Hamilet Dampulay spoke about their personal experiences migrating to Canada and working as caregivers in the homes of Canadian families. Both women spoke about the casual forms of exploitation they faced – required to work significantly longer hours than was stated in the contract, never receiving overtime pay, being required to perform duties outside their contract (such as car detailing and other manual labour) and fear of seeking healthcare for fear of having health problems reported to immigration officials. Caregivers worry that if they have health problems, their application for Canadian Permanent Residency will be denied as this has happened to other caregivers in the past.
Nellie is now a Canadian citizen, a social worker, and a community advocate with the international organization Migrante. Migrante is an organization that advocates for the rights of migrant workers in Canada and around the world. Along with speaking about her own experience as a caregiver, Nellie also discussed many of the reasons why women leave the Philippines for work. She reflected on the global inequalities between Canada and the Philippines that make it mandatory for women to leave their home country to become foreign workers.
These who attended the discussion had many questions for the participants including topics around access to health care and other social benefits. Participants were surprised to learn that temporary foreign workers, including caregivers, pay taxes and contribute to CPP and EI despite often not being able to access these benefits.
The discussion concluded with a focus on policy responses to some of the challenges raised by the discussion. A key theme of the policy discussion was the need for people to have access to permanent legal status when they arrive in Canada to work. Without legal status, migrant caregivers lack the basic protections given to other workers in Canada. There was also a discussion about the need to further raise awareness about these issues with the wider community. The Social Issues Discussion was organized in part by a member of the Social Policy Committee at the Women’s Centre. The Social Policy Committee helps support the research, policy and government relations work of the Women’s Centre. The Social Policy Committee will be working on developing policy around immigration and gender in the coming months to try and respond to the issues raised in the social issues discussion.