We’re all immigrants, but the newest amongst us make great sacrifices to keep our country strong.
OVER THE PAST FOUR YEARS my family has been blessed to have Cristina Katigbak in our life. As the live-in caregiver for my mom Jade, Cristina made it possible for Mom to remain comfortably in her home, even as she nears 90 with a condition that robs her of her mobility.
My sisters, who reside in Vancouver, and I have been able to rely heavily on Cristina, knowing she was fully capable, honest, kind and wise. Mom had gone through all sorts of health issues leading up to Cristina’s arrival—I have not-so-fond memories of at least three longish stays in the hospital with additional trips to Emergency. But in the four years with Cristina, there’s been a general calmness and stability for Mom, with not one hospital stay.
Cristina Katigbak and Jade Campbell
Trained as a nurse in the Philippines, Cristina and her family had emigrated originally to Ireland. But then the UK changed its immigration policy in a way that denied them any hope of citizenship, despite employers who were keen to keep them. After four years there, Cristina applied to come to Canada. Well over a year’s worth of bureaucratic processing ensued before she was accepted as a caregiver for my mom. Her husband and son, however, had to head back to Manila.
Canadians are ever-so-fortunate that Cristina and many other Filipinos are willing to sacrifice so much to come here as caregivers for our elderly and people with disabilities.
We are also lucky that they have usually stayed in Canada despite being parted from their own families for many years. Though they are able to apply after two years of approved, continuous employment, for permanent residency—which allows for family members to immigrate—the reality is, due to backlogs caused years ago, it’s often many more years before they can be reunited. It took “only” two additional years in Cristina’s case, but cases of six or more years are not uncommon, resulting in arduously long marital separations and children growing up without their moms. Frustratingly, there seems no way of knowing where one’s application for permanent residency is among the piles that must occupy officials’ desks.
Thankfully, in December, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen promised to process 17,000 backlogged permanent residency applications from live-in caregivers in 2018—leaving another 19,000 for the two subsequent years.
Despite such discouraging wait times and other obstacles, the Philippines—the source of so many caregivers—is Canada’s fastest growing subgroup of immigrants and top source of new permanent residents. In the last census, their population here stood at 837,130, which is about 2.4 percent of Canada’s population.
Cristina supported her family financially through her work with us. Once she had her “open work permit” after two years with my mom, she took another job on the weekends. Like so many other Filipinos I’ve met over years of care for both my mom and father-in-law Bob Broadland, working hard seems part of her nature.
Last summer, after what at the time seemed interminable delays, Cristina got her permanent residency, and after another two months her family was approved and in Victoria. Within a few weeks of arrival, both husband Joey and son C.J. had jobs—in construction and cleaning services respectively. I have no doubt they are valued by their employers for their conscientiousness and intelligence.
Despite her family living here in an apartment, not to mention her ability to get a higher-paying job elsewhere, Cristina committed to staying with Mom till December 20th.
There were tears all round on Cristina’s final day of work with us. We wish her and her family the very best, and plan to keep her in our lives if at all possible. She and Mom have developed a strong bond that will be impossible to replace.
Cristina is a quiet, uncomplaining person, but over the years I was able to appreciate what an immense sacrifice she and her family had made. In the hopes of a better future, mostly for their son, they had agreed to live apart—for years. “Thank God for Skype,” she’d often say.
And I’d think, thank God for Cristina—and for the immigration program that made it possible.
CRISTINA CAME TO US under what was known as the “federal live-in care program.” The government, recognizing there were not enough Canadians willing to be full-time nannies or caregivers, allowed families like mine—after jumping through hoops that usually required help from an immigration consultant—to employ a foreign resident full-time, paying at least minimum wage. After two years of approved live-in work, they became eligible to apply for permanent residency and could work wherever they wanted. With our aging populations, seniors facilities and home support agencies were—and remain—happy to employ them.
An in-home care “pathway” to residency is still available, but the rules have changed considerably in the past few years. Recall the 2014 eruption of indignation about McDonald’s hiring foreign workers over local Canadians. That led Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to make hasty changes which swamped the live-in program in its wake. Going forward, caregivers were lumped into a tightened-up Temporary Foreign Worker program. Wages are determined so differently now (so as not to undercut Canadian citizens) that the minimum one must pay a foreign caregiver in the Victoria area is $18.93 per hour. The wage is the median paid in this geographical area for “similar” work, all determined by a head-spinningly obscure process. On the Lower Mainland, the wage is $16 per hour. It was already a stretch for most families to employ someone full-time, so no doubt the new minimums are leading more frail seniors—my mom among them—to head to a publically-funded nursing home. Obviously, this will cost taxpayers more.
DESPITE SUCH MADDENING IMPERFECTIONS in Canada’s immigration system, a scan of the headlines coming out of the US leaves me feeling somewhat smug about Canada’s approach and attitudes about immigration. The US’s xenophobic travel bans, wall-building fantasies, round-ups of “illegals” and its president’s utterances on the subject all seem designed to terrorize immigrants.
When President Trump praised Canada’s merit-based system as worthy of emulation, he seemed to be confused, apparently believing that our system would help him reduce immigration to the US.
Yet our government and industry leaders understand that for Canada to thrive economically we absolutely require immigrants—and more of them, given declining birth rates and an aging population.
Since the 1960s—when the federal government removed race, colour, and nationality as considerations—Canadian immigration policy has aimed at being responsive to the nation’s labour force needs. This is done through a point system in which work skills, education levels, language ability, and family connections are the main considerations in determining about 60 percent of Canada’s annual 300,000 immigrants.
On November 1, 2017, the Canadian government announced its “multi-year immigration plan” that aims to bring 980,000 permanent residents in over the next three years. The economic (point-based) class will continue to account for the majority (58 percent) of all admissions; the family class will account for 28 percent; and 14 percent will be admitted under the humanitarian and refugee categories.
Many would like to see even more immigrants welcomed here. A new report from the Conference Board of Canada states: “If Canada were to welcome 450,000 immigrants per year by 2025, real GDP would grow by an average of 2.05 percent annually between 2017-2040. This is 0.20 percentage points higher than the estimated 1.85 percent growth currently forecast.”
But even at 300,000 immigrants per year, Canada “boasts one of the highest per-capita immigration rates in the world, about three times higher than the United States,” writes author Jonathan Tepperman in a recent New York Times article. Calling our approach “radically rational,” Tepperman notes: “Canada’s foreign-born population is more educated than that of any other country on Earth. Immigrants to Canada work harder, create more businesses and typically use fewer welfare dollars than do their native-born compatriots.”
While there’s much more to ponder and debate on the subject of immigration policy, I am confident that, like Cristina and her family, the vast majority of immigrants enrich our communities and nation both economically and culturally—as workers, taxpayers, citizens, consumers, and entrepreneurs.
My family feels proud to have played a role in Cristina’s journey towards Canadian citizenship—not so much because we helped Cristina. We actually helped make Canada great, period.
Like all Canadians, with the exception of First Nations peoples, Leslie Campbell is only a generation or so away from ancestors who immigrated to Canada, in her case Scottish economic migrants.
Edited by Leslie Campbell