These days, it scares Jodi Kaplan to let her live-in caregiver, Rose Pablico, out of her sight because of the rampant “nanny poaching” across Canada, especially in Greater Toronto.
Since 2010, fewer foreign live-in caregivers have been admitted to Canada, partly due to the declining applications by Canadian families who are now required to pay for all recruitment fees incurred and partly a result of Ottawa’s slower processing and tighter screening.
The shortage of live-in caregivers has been exacerbated since mid-December when the federal government issued 14,000 open work permits to nannies who met the employment hours to apply for permanent residency.
The open work permits allow nannies to work outside of an employer’s home and in the field they choose, and many have since given their two-weeks notice and left their jobs.
“The flood of open work permits has evaporated the local nanny market right across Canada. Nanny poaching is becoming rampant. When nannies arrive from overseas, they are more likely to leave because they know they have five families waiting,” said Manuela Gruber Hersch of the Association of Caregiver and Nanny Agencies Canada.
“It is now a nanny’s market. It will become worse before it will get better.”
The number of live-in caregivers arriving in Canada has plummeted by 40 per cent from its peak of 13,773 in 2007 to just 8,394 in 2010. Currently, average processing time to get an overseas nanny is 15 months, 17 months for the Philippines, the main source country.
Sharon Taylor, owner of Toronto’s Execu-Nannies, a placement agency since 1988, said she has seen shortages before but never to this extent.
“We go for weeks when we don’t have one live-in candidate who just arrives and registers with us,” said Taylor. “Since December, we’ve had a lot of (registered) caregivers calling us to change their status to live-out.”
While Taylor is happy the nannies can move on to their own professional fields and get closer to reuniting with their families after toiling as live-in caregivers for a minimum of two years, she is sorry for her many clients scrambling for help to care for their young children and elderly relatives at home.
Filipina nurse Ruby Primero came to Canada in 2008 as a caregiver but just got her open work permit in December after a year’s delay due to a backlog.
The 40-year-old has returned to school for her Ontario nursing licence — and is eager to have her three sons and husband join her in Toronto soon. “I am now closer to my dream,” she said.
Toronto financial portfolio manager Erika Rubin’s nanny gave her notice in mid-December after she got her open permit. The nanny has been kind enough to stay until a replacement is found, but Rubin said she has had no luck in her search so far.
“I have called a bunch of agencies but they can no longer find girls for me to interview,” said Rubin, mother of a 6-year-old boy and two girls, ages 2 and 9. Her husband also works full time in the financial sector.
“Not only can’t they find me someone local in Canada, there is nobody left for me to interview overseas.”
Ottawa’s new legislation that requires employers be responsible for all of a nanny’s expenses have made it costly for Canadian families, especially in a time of shortage, employers say.
Investments into importing someone from abroad could go down the drain if the nanny is “poached” by another family after arrival, said Carolyn Newman, a vice-president of a creative production company. Her current nanny is expected to get her open permit in a couple months.
“My sister-in-law got her nanny (from abroad), but she left her and moved to Ottawa because it’s closer to her sister,” said Newman, who has two boys, a 5-year-old and an 18-month-old. “If the government is going to eliminate this program, give us a proper national day care strategy.”
Live-out caregivers are not an option, not only because their pay, in the range of $14 and $18 an hour, is much higher than the minimum wage of $10.56 for their live-in counterparts, their hours are also less flexible, especially when care is needed overnight.
The industry group’s Gruber Hersch said the shortage has driven up wages and families who live in sprawling suburban neighbourhoods and have multiple children are left behind as nannies can afford to pick better working conditions.
Kaplan, a single mother with a boy, 13, and girl, 10, said she and her nanny have been approached by strangers in malls and grocery stores near their home in Victoria, B.C., looking for live-in caregivers.
“She has had four serious offers. One even offered her $20 an hour to steal her away. It is a real problem,” said Kaplan, who uses a wheelchair after an accident nine years ago.
“I’m glad she is still with me. But it is only fair that a family that has already paid for the nanny to come get to keep the nanny.”
To safeguard Canadian families’ interests, employers said, the government must put conditions in place that would require a nanny to stay with the employer who brought them here or repay the expenses if they don’t stay for the full term.
“I’m extremely supportive of the women to make sure they are not brought here fraudulently and do not end up in an abusive situation,” said Rubin, the Toronto mother of three. “But they have no obligation to stay for two days, not to mention two years.”
Although the law now stipulates employers pay the recruitment costs, Pura Velasco of Toronto’s Caregivers Action Centre said enforcement is still lacking and many unscrupulous recruiters still charge hefty fees to prospective caregivers to get them here.
Whenever caregivers switch employers, they must re-apply for new labour market opinions and update their work permits, and both processes can take months, said Velasco.
In order to avoid delays in applying for their permanent residency, she said most live-in caregivers do stay with their employers for the full term.
“The shortage of live-in caregivers does not change the power relationship between employers and caregivers. These caregivers still come here on temporary permits and their status is tied to their employers,” said Velasco.
“If employers want to keep their nannies, they must treat them well.”
Meanwhile, the immigration department said it has no plan to make changes to the caregiver program.
“We must keep in mind that the caregivers receiving open work permits have already lived up to their obligations,” said immigration spokesperson Nancy Caron.
“When Canadian employers hire a foreign national through the program, they are aware that the caregiver will become eligible to apply for permanent residence after two years.”