Nannies Who Come To Canada For A Better Future Have To Put Their Families On Hold

June 2, 2015 News,Our Blog
Analiza Calusa talks about experiences of Filipino caregivers living away from their own children.

Analiza Calusa talks about experiences of Filipino caregivers living away from their own children. Photograph by: Steve Bosch, PROVINCE

Analiza Calusa has missed more birthdays and graduations of her three daughters than she cares to count. Over the past 18 years, she’s only spent one Christmas with them. But for a parent left with little choice but to give up the present in pursuit of a better future, Calusa remains unbothered, pragmatic and optimistic. “The hardest thing is them growing up without me,” said the 43-year-old Vancouver nanny. “But it’s worth it. I always tell them: The hope I have is that I will be with you in Canada. Put that in your heart.”

Calusa is one of thousands of foreign caregivers who have come to Canada through the decades-old Live-in Caregivers Program, which allows Canadians to hire a foreign caregiver or nanny when no Canadian citizens or permanent resident can fill the position. The program was recently revamped by the federal government. For the last four years, Calusa has lived with a family in Kerrisdale with two kids, 11 and eight, while sending money every month to her sister, who is taking care of her three daughters, now aged 23, 17 and 16. Prior to Canada, Calusa worked in Hong Kong for 11 years and Singapore for three. She was lured to Canada by the LCP’s opportunity to attain permanent residency status. It’s an incentive that has drawn thousands of Filipinos to Canada, mostly women, some who leave behind their own children to take care of other people’s kids. The Philippines, which has encouraged labour emigration for decades, is a major source of LCP participants. Calusa’s kids have accepted the separation — for the two younger ones, it’s the only way they’ve ever known, she said, — but it doesn’t mean you get used to it. Her daughters used to go with her on the eight-hour bus ride from their rural hometown in Nueva Vizcaya to Manila to see her off at the airport. After a few times, she told them to stay home; prolonging the goodbyes was too painful. A few years ago during a trip back home, her second daughter Rheslie Mae asked if she can just “not go.” “I can stay,” she told the teen. “But if I stay here, I don’t know if I can send you to school. Sending you to school is the only future I can give.”

Rheslie Mae never asked again. Calusa says she’s fortunate because, despite the distance and her physical absence, her kids do well in school and enjoy a close relationship with her although she admits to “a little bit of distance” between them. “Being a mother is hard when you’re away from them, but with their sweetness, with their love, I can say I’m grateful to be a mom.” Maylinne Deocareza, a settlement worker at the Multicultural Helping House on Fraser Street, said prolonged separation takes its toll on families. Canada’s caregiver program requires participants to complete two years of service. Under the old system, said Deocarza, the processing time took up to 40 months. In addition, most women in the program have already spent years toiling in other Asian or Middle East countries. “It’s hard. I see it in (my clients’) faces and voices. They worry about their kids, but they can’t do much,” said Deocareza. “All they can do is to say ‘one day, you will be here really soon.’ The children will say ‘how soon?’ You get tired of saying ‘soon’ but you have that faith it will happen.”

Deocareza, who had also worked as a caregiver, isn’t a mom but she has experienced the impact of family separation with her own mother, a single mom who left two daughters, age 8 and 10, with their grandparents in the northern province of Ilocos Norte to work as a dressmaker in Manila, then as a domestic helper in Hong Kong. She is now in her 23rd year in Hong Kong. Deocareza understands why her mother and the many other moms who go down the same lonely well-worn path do it, but she hopes for a time when they won’t have to. “Being away from our mothers for a long time, we want to stop that.” Even reunification, when it happens, isn’t always a happily-ever-after situation. After years apart the spouse and children can be strangers, and marital breakdowns are common, she noted. For Calusa, her 18-year separation will soon come to an end. She received her permanent residency status in March. Later this month, she will go back to the Philippines. Instead of saying goodbye to her children, this time she’ll be taking them with her. “I’m so excited,” she said. “Maybe we’ll go to Grouse Mountain. I haven’t been to so many places here.”

New Nanny Program

Starting Nov. 30 last year, Ottawa replaced the Live-in Caregivers Program with a two-stream program that caps the number of permanent residency applications at 5,500 a year. It allows eligible workers to work in Canada with a regular work permit under two “pathways” — caring for children or caring for people with high medical needs. Participants are still required to complete two years of work, similar to the LCP, but are now required to submit proof of language proficiency and educational credential assessments. Other changes include elimination of the live-in requirement and shortened processing times for permanent residency applications to six months.