The federal government recently issued at least 10,000 open work permits for caregivers from other countries, CBC News has learned.
The permits allow the caregivers to continue to work in Canada, without being tied to the family that sponsored them to come here. Many caregivers have complained about alleged mistreatment, long hours for little pay and poor work conditions.
Granting an open work permit allows caregivers to leave sponsoring employers without losing their permission to be in the country.
Advocates for foreign caregivers in Canada said the government's move is unprecedented.
Early Christmas for caregivers
Manuela Gruber Hersch, president of the Association of Caregiver and Nanny Agencies of Canada, said it's an early Christmas present for caregivers.
"We're not 100 per cent sure what the motives are, especially in the light that there's been no announcement," she said. "We aren't sure what the government's position is or what their objective is."
Citizenship and Immigration Canada has not responded to requests for an explanation.
In past interviews, Minister Jason Kenney has said he was looking for ways to continue bringing in foreign caregivers while protecting their rights.
It's also not clear if this is a one-off or a permanent policy change.
Live-in caregivers complaining about alleged poor treatment has had at least one high-profile example in recent years: Former Brampton-Springdale MP Ruby Dhalla faced questions in 2009 over allegations she and her mother mistreated two live-in caregivers from the Philippines.
Dhalla denied the accusations, but it has been speculated that the controversy played a role in her losing her seat in the last federal election.
Recently in British Columbia, two immigrant women who had worked as live-in domestic help in the Lower Mainland said they were treated like slaves and kept in near imprisonment by their employers.