Foreign caregivers wait years to call Canada home
Alka Chhabra has already waited five years for her permanent resident status under Canada’s now defunct live-in caregiver program. She’s not alone.
Alka Chhabra, who lives in Kitchener, is shown with husband Harpal Singh, who is still in India. Chhabra has been waiting five years for her permanent resident status.
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Published on Jan 17 2016
Alka Chhabra has already endured an agonizing five-year wait to call Canada home — and it’s not over yet.
Chhabra is one of tens of thousands of people caught in a processing backlog for permanent resident status under Canada’s now defunct live-in caregiver program.
In her seven-plus years in Canada — including two years looking after an elderly couple in Oakville — the former teacher from India has had to cope alone with the grief from a miscarriage and recent surgery for septic kidney stones.
“I got married in India after I met the requirements for permanent residency,” said Chhabra, 44, who came to Canada in 2009 under the old caregiver program and married her husband, Harpal Singh, in 2011. She learned she was pregnant when she returned to Canada, but said she found the wait for her residency so stressful she lost the baby.
“I am in Canada without my husband, without my family. No one is able to look after me. I had surgeries on my kidney and spent seven days in intensive care. I’m already 40-plus. I’m not getting any younger. I can’t wait any longer to start my own family and be a mother.”
Chhabra, who now works as a trucking company dispatcher in Guelph, is not alone in facing a lengthy wait for permanent status under the old live-in caregiver program (LCP), which was ended by the Conservative government in December 2014.
Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s website says it currently takes an average of 47 months to process the permanent resident applications of those caregivers in the backlog. The New Delhi office is currently finalizing 80 per cent of its overseas dependant cases in about 40 months, the department said.
Immigration spokesperson Nancy Chan said officials have been “aggressively” trying to bring down the backlog by admitting record numbers of permanent residents.
“At the start of 2014, the backlog of applicants for permanent residence through the LCP stood at about 58,000 people, including principal applicants, as well as their spouses, common-law partners and dependants,” said Chan in an email.
“As of Dec. 3, 2015, the backlog of applicants for permanent residence through the LCP has been reduced to about 38,000 people.”
Under the old program, foreign caregivers were required to complete 24 months, or 3,900 hours, of authorized full-time live-in employment within four years to qualify for permanent resident status.
In Chhabra’s case, Chan said, although she applied for permanent residence in February 2011, the department did not receive all the required paperwork until June 2013.
Ranjit Kaur Grewal, 30, said her application has just passed the 47-month mark, and counting. The fashion design graduate took a six-month course as a personal support worker and came to Canada in 2008 under the caregiver program.
“We come because we believe we can have a better future here,” said Grewal, who applied for permanent residency in December 2011 and married her engineer husband, Shivek Dhillon, the next year through an arranged marriage.
Grewal became pregnant after a trip to visit her husband and gave birth to their daughter, Savreen, in Canada. However, to work and support herself, the young mother, a warehouse packer in Malton, had to take the little girl back to India when she was only seven months old.
“We do miss our family,” Grewal said. “The wait is just so hard on us.”
Many of the caregivers, while waiting for their permanent status and family reunification, don’t really have a life, said Sukhdip Kaur, who has been in the queue for 49 months to get her status and reunite with her husband, Gurpiar Sran, a plumber in Punjab.
The 33-year-old Ottawa woman was recently caught in a late-night robbery while closing the Tim Hortons restaurant where she works as a manager.
“You just get up, go to work, go home, go to bed and start the next day,” said Kaur, who has a master’s degree in history from India and was a teacher. “You are alone and don’t have a life here.”
What is worse, said former caregiver Simarjot Gill, is that their spouses back home cannot get the necessary visitor visas to come to see them while their permanent residence applications are being processed.
“I also tried to get my mother and father to see me this summer, but they couldn’t get a visa because they had no travel history,” said Gill, 30, who has waited 49 months for her permanent status — and reunification with husband Hardeep Singh — and now works in housekeeping at a hospital in Surrey, B.C. “It’s very frustrating.”
Kulvinder Kaur said she has seen her husband, Gurjinder Singh, daughter, Arshdeep, 13, and son, Prabhsimran, 6, only once since she came to Canada in late 2009 as a caregiver.
“I can only see my kids on Skype, and they keep telling me to go back to India,” said the 41-year-old Mississauga woman, who filed her permanent resident application in February 2012. “I ask them to give me time to bring them over. The wait can’t be endless.”