Filipino caregivers share stories of family separation

>> Sunday, January 10, 2010

Here is some seemingly good news for Filipino migrant worker-caregivers of Canada under its Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP). Minister Jason Kenny announced changes to the LCP Program last December 12, 2009. Among the changes in the LCP program are:
1. exemption to taking a second medical test as a pre-requisite to becoming a permanent resident; and
2. application for permanent status after 3,900 work hours or the equivalent of over two years as against the current requirement that a caregiver has to complete two years of work within a span of 36 months or three years equivalent.
The above changes shall be considered final following consultation for 30 days beginning December 19.

For SIKLAB however, these reforms are not solving the separation of caregivers from their families besides being 'exploitative and racist'. Found below is an email printed in Northern Philippine Times from the Philippine Women Centre of British Columbia, Canada, SIKLAB-BC (Filipino Workers Organization), Philippine Women Centre of B.C., Filipino-Canadian Youth Alliance and Filipino Nurses Support Group detailing stories of family separation among Filipino caregivers in Canada.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia. -- Two days before Christmas, Filipino live-in caregivers and their children shared their stories of struggle and resistance in a press conference.

Organizers of the conference highlighted the negative effects of family separation during the Holiday Season and throughout the years as women are forced apart from their loved ones because of restrictions of Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP).

Despite proposed government reforms to the LCP, the community groups say that the LCP is “fundamentally flawed” and remains a key program that denies the Filipino community as a whole genuine long-term settlement and integration in Canadian society. The proposed changes include changes to the calculation of the mandatory period of work and a waiver of the second medical examination for new LCP applicants.

Inday Suelo, current live-in caregiver and member of SIKLAB-BC, a group that aims to advance and uphold the rights of Filipino workers in Canada, shared her challenges with problematic employers, poor working conditions, below minimum wage earnings, and long delays in the processing of papers.

She explained that the LCP leaves thousands of live-in caregivers, 95% of whom are Filipino women, vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. She left behind her daughter in the Philippines, now fourteen, to work in Canada .

This will be her second Christmas away from her family, leaving her to spend her Christmas with friends here. She said she misses the Philippines and despite her employer offering her a ticket to visit her family, she was unable to go because of delays in processing her work permit.

Gloria Remirata, also member of SIKLAB and former live-in caregiver, shared her experience of being separated from her three children for six years while working in Canada - missing her children’s birthdays, Christmases, educational accomplishments.

The LCP does not allow workers the right to bring their families to Canada causing an average of 8 years of separation, according to research studies.

Suelo and Remirata are Philippine-trained professionals, a midwife and high-school teacher respectively. They shared experiences of deskilling and their concern of a future of economic marginalization and downward labour mobility because of systemic barriers perpetuated by the fundamental pillars of the LCP a mandatory period of work within a specified length of time since entry into Canada ; the employer-specific work contract; temporary immigration status; and a mandatory live-in requirement.

The testimonial of Justin Remirata, Remirata’s son was also read. He shared the hardships in building a new relationship with his estranged mother, the barriers he faced in the education system, and the challenges of being a low-wage worker to support the family’s economic needs.

“For six years we celebrated Christmas without our mother,” said Remirata. “I hope this program is scrapped so that other youth do not have to experience thing I did,” he added.

He said he shared his story for, “those youth who are too far away to tell their stories and for the mothers sending back gifts packed in balikbayan boxes waiting to use overpriced calling cards to call their children back home.”

The groups say the impacts of mothers working under the LCP , “ripples into the lives of the children of live-in caregivers where they become the next generation of cheap labourers rather than achieving upward labor mobility.”

UBC Geography Professor Geraldine Pratt encouraged Canadians to understand the long-term implications of the LCP as a temporary foreign labour program that de-skills members of the community across generations.

Christina Panis, Vice-Chair of PWC, also urged Canadians to understand that the LCP is not “Filipino issue,” but a Canadian issue. She explained that the LCP is Canada ’s de-facto national childcare program and forwards privatized health care that benefits only Canadians that can afford it. She urged Canadians to unite with the call to have a complete overhaul of Canada ’s immigration program, that includes scrapping the LCP , allowing immigrant families to come to Canada with permanent residency, and implementing a universal childcare and healthcare that will benefit the majority of Canadians.

The speakers shed light on the reality of the tinkering being proposed to the program. They explained that the changes are “merely cosmetic and provide only band aid solutions to serious problems.” When asked if scrapping the LCP would remove the “opportunity” for low-skilled workers to come into Canada , Panis challenged Canadians to re-examine the tendency to view Filipino and immigrants of underdeveloped countries as low-skilled cheap laborers.

She explained that the overwhelming majority of women, since the 1960s to the present, entering Canada from the Philippines are in reality highly-educated and skilled workers such as nurses, teachers, mid-wives, and accountants.

Both Pratt and Panis pointed to the larger structural problems of Canada ’s immigration system that fails to recognize the community as highly-skilled workers. Instead Panis explained the NAPWC’s position that women should be allowed to come to Canada as they did 30 years ago as professionals with a choice to have their family alongside them and not funneled into doing underpaid domestic work.

The groups called to, “scrap the exploitative, anti-woman, racist, anti-worker LCP .”

For more information, please contact Leah or Glecy at ph: 604-682-4451 or


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