Broken Dreams: LCP program

Posted by admin on Dec 12th, 2008

Thu, December 11 2008, Asian Pacific Post

The imminent deportation of a Vancouver-based Filipina caregiver and her one-year old Canadian-born baby underscores the “unjust” and “exploitative” policies of Canada’s Live-in Caregiver Program, says a national advocacy group fighting to have the federal program scrapped. Lilibeth Agoncillo, a 34 year-old single mother from Mindoro province in The Philippines, came to Canada in April, 2005 under Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP). Despite living and working in Vancouver for over three years she has been ordered to leave Canada immediately for not meeting the required 24-months of live-in work during her three-year stay. Under LCP rules, foreign caregivers must spend two years working in the home of their employer under a valid work permit.

According to Siklab-B.C., a rights group for overseas Filipino workers with offices across Canada, Agoncillo and her child are victims of “unfair and unjust government policies.”

“Like many other live-in caregivers, Agoncillo changed employers several times and because of many bureaucratic hurdles, delays in processing her work permit and a lack of information, she fell through the cracks of the unfair and often confusing immigration system,” said Glecy Duran, chairperson of Siklab-B.C., in a statement.

Duran said that Agoncillo’s situation is not unique. “Canada’s LCP is a trap for many women workers. The exploitative and restrictive policies of the program mean that many workers end up without status in Canada and are ordered deported. To add salt to the wound, we are also not readily assisted by the local Philippine Consulate to return home,” she added.

“I want other Filipinos and Canadians to know the reality of the situation here,” said Agoncillo, in a statement. “The Philippine government calls us ‘Modern-Day Heroes’ but we are more like modern-day slaves.”

Since the 1980’s, over 100,000 Filipino women have entered Canada as live-in caregivers. Ottawa changed its Foreign Domestic Movement, a childcare or nanny program, into the Live-in Care Program in 1992. The LCP includes care for elderly and disabled Canadians and has been criticized by advocacy groups as Canada’s “de-facto childcare program” and a part of the increasing privatization of health care.

Roderick Carreon, Siklab’s national chairperson, says it is unrealistic and unreasonable to expect foreign caregivers to remain employed as domestic helpers under one roof for two years.

An employer’s economic circumstances may change. The parties may not get along. There may be abuses or violations of the employment contract. Any of these factors can come in to play, says Carreon, leaving the caregiver out of a job.

“It’s a hard rule to follow,” says Carreon. “And the Canadian government doesn’t track the employers. The live-in caregivers are simply told to find another job and start the process again.”

Agoncillo’s case was recently highlighted in The Philippine press. But Carreon, based in Montreal, doubts it will have much impact on women looking to abandon the hardships of home for the dream of a better life in Canada.

“It’s just one of many cases of deportation among live-in caregivers,” he says. “In a month I would say, just in Quebec, we will be approached by a minimum of 10 LCP workers who are being asked to leave Canada or have already been given a deportation order.

“Agoncillo’s case is one that is actually documented, which makes the difference. But even though you have cases like this, Canada is still enticing.”

Carreon says both Manila and Ottawa are to blame for the “forced migration” that is tearing the social fabric of The Philippines apart.

The exodus of so many wives and mothers, he says, has lead to unparalleled social problems back home, including increased divorces, higher school dropout rates, more crime, depression and even suicide.

“Twenty years ago it was close to taboo to say you were a domestic worker abroad,” he explains. “Now it is an honour to be serving in other peoples’ houses even though the family is being destroyed.”

Carreon says The Philippines has “modified its own people to serve the economy” by promoting overseas work as a solution to the nation’s economic woes. Overseas Filipino Workers, or OFWs, return nearly $14 billion to The Philippines annually in the form of remittances, or money sent back home to family.

“It’s what’s keeping the economy afloat,” says the hospital technician. “Canada needs cheap labour and The Philippines is providing that labour. It goes both ways.”

“They cannot survive,” he says. “But the irony is, we sacrifice our family for the sake of our family. As soon as you board that plane, the family is destroyed. The minimum separation for someone who enters the LCP is five years. Minimum.”

Carreon says growing up in The Philippines, he was never told his parents were domestic workers in Canada. He was separated from them for seven years from the age of three.

“I didn’t even now I had brother and sister in Canada,” he says. “Even today, we are trying to heal that rift. I grew up thinking my grandparents were my actual parents. I called my grandfather ‘Dad,’ I called my grandmother ‘Mom.’”

The Siklab activist says that “if Canada was really compassionate,” it would scrap the LCP, and allow the workers it needs to bring their immediate families to Canada as contributing Canadians.

“The LCP is not an immigration policy, it’s a labour policy and it’s flawed,” says Carreon. “You can’t reform this type of program. It’s harmful. It needs to be scrapped.

“These house cleaners, these babysitters, most of them are nurses or engineers,” he adds. “Some of them are even doctors. Why wouldn’t you accredit them, allow families to migrate to avoid family separation, and let these workers contribute to the country.”

As for Lilibeth Agoncillo, Carreon says he doesn’t hold out much hope.
“She’s going to be deported,” he says. “For every case we can campaign, but Canada will not allow every case to be won. They’re in a spot. If they let her stay it’s going to look bad for them. But the sad part too, it doesn’t matter if you deport one Filipino because you have 2,000 leave every day.”

By Mata Press Service

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