Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak today. My name is Maria Esel Panlaqui, part-time settlement worker at Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office or TNO. TNO is a non-profit charitable organization and multicultural community-based settlement agency in Toronto.
We formally started the TNO caregivers and transition program in 2008. We provide support to live-in caregivers while they are in transition from temporary foreign workers to permanent residents. In addition to in-house services, we also offer alternative settlement service delivery that includes providing alternate services at churches, coffee shops, and apartment buildings. In addition, we offer services over the telephone during the evenings.
As a result of this, we get calls from caregivers in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatoon, and the Northwest Territories. These are workers who haven't been able to access services where they are located, either because they are not aware of our program and services, or because the services are offered from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and live-in caregivers can only access services on weekends and evenings.
Before getting connected to our organization, many of our clients already have had a bad experience dealing with immigration consultants. They seek the services of immigration consultants when they face challenges with regard to the processing of their PR applications. Challenges include long delays in processing of applications and renewals of open work permits and work permits. Permanent residents are refused also because of administrative errors of IRCC, medical inadmissibility of their family members or dependants, and lack of knowledge about how to apply for humanitarian and compassionate grounds or about how to make applications in Canada as live-in caregivers. Because of their precarious immigration status, these workers are easily taken advantage of by some immigration consultants, whether authorized or not authorized. Most often these workers say they can't discern whether their consultants are authorized or not.
In some instances, even though they don't trust them entirely, they still end up working with them because they don't know where else to get help. Most of our clients claim that they have been manipulated and intimidated by their immigration consultants. Most of these consultants are aware that these workers will not lodge a complaint against them because they know if they do so this will have a negative impact on their immigration application.
In the cases of unauthorized immigration consultants, some live-in caregivers were misled into believing that they were authorized representatives. We have anecdotal reports that some consultants are advertising themselves as being licensed when they are not. Our clients' experiences with unauthorized immigration consultants are worse. Some of these workers were asked to pay high fees up front, and later they found out the immigration applications they needed to file were not even submitted to IRCC. In most cases, these caregivers don't have enough financial resources to make the payments. They borrow money from their friends or get high-interest loans.
Obviously, the long processing of permanent residence applications and their precarious immigration status contribute to their vulnerability. One of the barriers we often see happening on the ground is they have limited access to free legal services from the community legal clinics. Although they are considered employed, they are low-wage earners, and because they are breadwinners and are often sending money back home, they don't have financial resources to get help. Those who are not aware of settlement services, agencies, or non-profit organizations end up dealing with immigration consultants who take advantage of their vulnerability.
Another barrier we see is that some of these workers have been calling us from different provinces in Canada claiming they are having difficulty accessing settlement services, especially those from settlement workers in school. I believe these settlement workers are not mandated by IRCC to assist in filing immigration application forms.
We also hear from our clients that there are many unregistered ghost consultants who conduct business unethically in origin countries like the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. They operate in the shadows and hence are not held accountable.
One of the biggest problems we see is that, while Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council can investigate its own members, it doesn't have the authority to go after non-members. Complaints about unlicensed consultants have to be forwarded to the CBSA, and migrant workers, refugees, and caregivers, the most vulnerable groups targeted by immigration consultants, are intimidated by the CBSA and don't want to file charges when the CBSA is involved.
Some of the other recommendations we would like to present are the following.
We strongly believe that a precarious immigration status is among the major causes of vulnerability of live-in caregivers, refugees, and other temporary workers, and that this allows some immigration consultants and employers to abuse them.
We recommend that the federal government provide landed status to all foreign workers, including live-in caregivers and allow them to enter Canada with their families. Live-in caregivers, refugees, and migrant workers face long periods of separation from their families, and, in many cases, this leads to feelings of anxiety, loneliness, pressures, and stress.
We recommend that the federal government take special measures to address this immigration backlog by allocating resources and addressing inefficiencies of IRCC in processing these applications. IRCC should also give special considerations and not penalize through outright refusal of the applications of these live-in caregivers, refugees, and other foreign workers. The IRCC should not blame and punish the victims but rather ensure that immigration consultants who abuse them are prosecuted.
We would also like to recommend that the IRCC undertake a complete review of the new caregiver program.