Yes, But What Have You Done For Us Lately?

May 25th, 2006

Last week I was interviewed by a reporter from the CBC, Canada’s national television network, for a story they were doing about the sad situation of Laila Elumbra. Television being what it is, most of the interview ended up on the cutting-room floor by the time it reached television screens. I feel strongly about the subject matter and I’m using this space to share my thoughts with readers.

Ponder for a moment the plight of Laila Elumbra. She is, by all accounts, a decent and hard-working person, who has followed all Canadian immigration rules as they apply to her. Through absolutely no fault of her own she now wages an uphill battle to remain in Canada.

Here is what happened.

Ms. Elumbra entered the country legally on a work permit issued by Citizenship and Immigration Canada under the Live-in Caregiver Program.

Under the Program, live-in caregivers can apply for a Canadian permanent resident visa in Canada; but only after two years of caregiver employment, which must be completed within three years of their arrival in Canada.

In Ms. Elumbra’s 22nd month of employment, disaster struck. She suffered a seizure and then lapsed into a coma. As she lay unconscious in a hospital bed for four months, racking up $20,000 in hospital expenses she must pay herself, her chances of meeting the 24 month requirement within the maximum of three years disappeared. And so, it appears, did her hopes of remaining in Canada.

While Ms. Elumbra’s predicament is perhaps unique in its details, it is symptomatic of a general approach to foreign domestic workers that is far too common. In many cases, employers treat them as expendable commodities. As long as they do the work that other Canadians are not willing to do, they are allowed to remain. But should a live-in caregiver fall sick while in Canada, she (and they are mostly women) is sent away, much like a buyer might send back damaged goods.

We give little consideration to the fact that the Program requires live-in caregivers to come to Canada alone and to be separated from their families back home for years, while we entrust them to take care of family members dearest to us. Most other foreign workers in Canada are permitted to bring spouses and children with them on work permits or study permits. Surely, we can find a way to speed-up the process of uniting live-in caregivers with their families, if we really wanted to.

The Live-in Caregiver Program, in its present form, is an anachronism – a throwback to the era of indentured servants. In the bad old days, it was quite common for a labourer to work for someone for a specific period of time for little or no monetary pay in exchange for the bare essentials of life and passage to a new country. Most developed nations have moved on to a more equitable treatment of workers. It is tempting to blame this unjust treatment on Canadian immigration authorities, but this ignores the fact that our government officials carry out our wishes. The blame falls upon the shoulders of all Canadians.

Blog written by David Cohen on Thursday, May 18, 2006

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