10/09/2014 05:00 EDT | Updated 12/08/2014 05:59 EST

Changes to live-in caregiver program won't solve backlog, groups fear

Groups representing live-in caregivers say they are worried the federal government is considering moving the foreign caregiver program over to its new Express Entry immigration system, as it seeks input from various stakeholders ahead of much-anticipated reforms.

The Live-In Caregiver Program was by-and-large excluded from the reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program announced by the government in June, but the government said an overhaul to the caregiver program would be coming this fall.

While the Express Entry system being implemented in the new year does provide skilled workers with a path to citizenship, live-in caregiver groups are concerned the move would fail to address a large backlog of caregivers still waiting to come to Canada or awaiting residency.

Christopher Sorio, the vice-chair for Migrante Canada, a national organization representing Filipino immigrants, told CBC News groups representing live-in caregivers are urging the government to find "a permanent fix."

"We are urging the government to admit live-in caregivers as permanent residents from the outset," Sorio said.

Aimee Beboso, the chair of the Ottawa-based Philippine Migrants Society of Canada, echoed Sorio's remarks.

"If the live-in caregivers are good enough to work here, they're good enough to stay," she told CBC News in an interview on Tuesday.

Beboso, whose group was not invited to take part in consultation meetings led by the government over the summer, said live-in caregiver groups are worried the government is only consulting a small number of stakeholders.

"It's unclear how they are going about it," she said.

Under the current program, live-in caregivers come to work for Canadian families as temporary foreign workers, many of them leaving their spouses and children behind while they establish a life in Canada.

After two years of work, the caregivers are then eligible to apply for permanent residency but that alone can take more than three years.

The current wait time for 80 per cent of permanent resident applications received under the live-in caregiver program between April 1, 2013 and March 31 is 39 months, according to the government's citizenship and immigration web site.

'Canada needs caregivers': Alexander

Asked by CBC News whether the government was considering moving the caregiver program over to Express Entry, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander would not say.

"Wherever we go with the caregiver program, for now we have a very solid proven program with improved protections.

"There will be that temporary and that permanent aspect," Alexander told CBC News on Wednesday.

Alexander noted more live-in caregivers and nannies currently working for Canadian families would see their permanent residency applications approved in 2014.

"This year, we're processing 17,500 caregiver applications from the backlog which is unprecedented."

Alexander acknowledged the growing need for more caregivers and nannies across the country.

"Canada needs caregivers … but we need them, and I think caregivers are the first to recognize this, in a broader range of occupations than ever before. 

"Some in the traditional role of helping with young children at home. Others, helping with medical need situations in homes. And then in institutions as well where there are a wide variety of needs, professional needs, highly-skilled needs that aren't necessarily being met anywhere close to the scale needed in many parts of the country," Alexander said.

Employment Minister Jason Kenney was more critical of the caregiver program in June saying it had morphed into a family reunification program.

NDP immigration critic Lysanne Blanchette-Lamothe criticized the government for its "lack of transparency."

"They’ve hinted at changes, while vilifying certain communities they claim are abusing the program, without providing any evidence. 

"They’ve refused to hold public and open consultations and have excluded important advocates and experts from their closed door consultations," Blanchette-Lamothe said in a written statement to CBC News.