The Nanny Diaries: Toronto’s Filipino caregivers talk about low wages, long days and immigration delays

The Nanny Diaries: Toronto’s Filipino caregivers talk about low wages, long days and immigration delays

SINCE 1992, some 75,000 Filipinos have become permanent residents of Canada through the federal government’s caregiver program. The sales pitch was hard to resist: help raise our children for two years, and we’ll reunite you with yours and give everyone a shot at permanent residency. Last year alone, some 23,687 Filipinos came to Canada under the program. But it has become a victim of its own success. Today, the backlog of applications for permanent residency is 17,600 names long. Citizenship and Immigration has promised swift action: it implemented an annual cap on the number of permanent residencies at 5,500, added educational and language components to the criteria, and announced plans to expedite the approvals process. But for many, the wait, which now averages 50 months—and that’s after two years of employment—is torture. At home, their kids are growing up without them. And with rock-bottom wages in the Philippines, going back isn’t a viable option. Here, the stories of five Filipina nannies whose lives are on hold as they await their fate.

The Nanny Diaries: Sheila Calica

Sheila Calica

Age: 38
From: Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines
Arrived in Canada: October 2008
Applied for Permanent Residency: October 2011
Caregiver Salary: $1,720 per month
Sent Home: $570 per month

My father died from a cardiac arrest when I was 17. As the eldest girl in my family, I became a stand-in mother and father to my four siblings while my mom worked to put us through school. Thanks to her, I now have a degree in industrial technology.

In Toronto, I found work with a family with three kids. On my third day, they were running around the house with knives in their hands, and I couldn’t control them, so I just sat down and cried. They fired me the next day. For three years after that, I worked on a farm, cleaning the house, cooking and doing laundry while the kids were at school. I made only $1,000 a month, though I put up with it because I was grateful for the opportunity.

I applied for permanent residency in October 2011, and I was told that my application would take 36 months to be processed. I thought about it all the time and counted down the days. After 36 months, I called, and they told me that my application would now take a total of 39 months to process. The uncertainty worried me constantly. Last summer, my white blood cell count plummeted, and I had to take two weeks off work. The doctor’s diagnosis was stress. I wanted to quit, but I told myself it would be hard for the kids to adjust to a new nanny. The family fired me last June. I’ve since found part-time work in a factory and am hoping to find a new, full-time caregiver position when my health improves. It has been 45 months since I applied for permanent residency, and still no response.

The Nanny Diaries: Janeth Melitante

Janeth Melitante

Age: 39
From: Sorsogon, Philippines
Arrived in Canada: June 2012
Applied for Permanent Residency: November 2014
Caregiver Salary: $1,400 per month
Sends Home: $600 per month
Works In: Lytton park

I made just $100 per month when I was working for a lending institution in the Philippines. I decided to move to Hong Kong in 2005 so my boys—four and five at the time—would receive a good education back home. My hope was to send them to university.

Some nannies I met in Hong Kong told me that Canada was a good place to work. Minimum wage was $10.25; my contract stated that I’d make $1,000 per month, working six hours per day—which came out to roughly $8 per hour. But one of the families who hired me expected me to work 12 hours a day, which meant I earned about $4 per hour. It was awful. I missed my family and feared I’d made a terrible mistake. I lived in the nanny suite in the basement. An ex-boss would sometimes text me at night asking me what I was up to. He made me feel uncomfortable, and I wouldn’t respond.

My new boss is a lawyer, and she’s disgusted by the way I was treated by my former employers. I look after her three kids, aged three, five and seven, and I cook, tidy up the house and do the laundry. I haven’t considered what I’ll do if my application is rejected—I prefer not to even think about it. My friends, who do clerical work in the Philippines, make just $300 per month. It would be hard to start over at my age. My sons are 14 and 15 now. They live with my father back home. I visited them this past March and they followed me everywhere I went. When I had to leave, my elder son took it the hardest. He cried as he hugged me goodbye and escaped to his room before I left. I miss them both so much.

The Nanny Diaries: Mary Jane Magat

Mary Jane Magat

Age: 46
From: Pampanga, Philippines
Arrived in Canada: June 2009
Applied for Permanent Residency: June 2011
Caregiver Salary: $2,000 per month
Sends Home: $1,000 per month
Works In: Blake-Jones

In 1995, Mount Pinatubo, a volcano about 85 kilo­metres from my home, erupted, flooding the surrounding area in a heavy mixture of water and rock—inside our house, it reached my knees. Everything we owned was destroyed. I took my kids to a nearby school, where we slept on pieces of cardboard, 10 families to a room. Eleven years after the disaster, the government completed a resettlement area, and my kids and I were given a house to live in. But salaries in Canada are three times what they are in the Philippines, so I decided to leave, with the hope we’d eventually be reunited.

I worked as a nurse’s aide at an elderly care facility in Taiwan for seven years, then came to Canada. A family at Pape and Danforth was impressed with my resumé, especially the fact that I had looked after a patient who suffered from seizures. Six years later, I’m still with my first bosses. I take care of the kids, who are four and seven, tidy the house and sometimes cook them Filipino dishes like pancit and adobo.

In September 2011, my boss bought me a round-trip flight home. I was speechless. I hadn’t seen my children in nine years. My middle son is now 24 and has been removed from my application because he no longer meets the age requirement. My ex-husband and I split because he started cheating on me, but I met a man here, and we’re getting married in ­September. I’m excited to start a life with him and, hopefully, my youngest son. It has been four years since I applied, and I’m hoping that I’ll be approved soon so my kids can attend our wedding.

The Nanny Diaries: Rosalinda Umpad

Rosalinda Umpad

Age: 49
From: Nueva Ecija, Philippines
Arrived in Canada: June 2009
Applied for Permanent Residency: November 2012
Caregiver Salary: $2,200 per month
Sent Home: $1,400 per month
Worked In: Riverdale

I taught home economics and English literature in the Philippines for almost 20 years. My husband was a mechanical engineer. In 1997, he was diagnosed with skin cancer. I spent $22,000 on treatments over the next six years and still have $5,000 to pay off.

I made only $300 a month as a teacher, so when my husband died, I didn’t have enough money to support my two children and my mother. In 2006, I left for Dubai. Though my girls were only nine and 16, I think they understood the financial predicament we were in. Leaving them was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. The family that employed me in Dubai had a newborn child with bad asthma, so I was like his nurse. When I decided to move to Canada in 2009, they bought my plane ticket and gave me $2,000.

I’m looking for work right now—I was employed by a couple at Dundas and Broadview, but they got a daycare spot and had to let me go. Before that, I sent home $350 a week to pay for my daughters’ university tuition and my mom’s thyroid medication. I haven’t been home to see my kids in almost 10 years. When I left, my younger daughter hung a photo of me inside the mosquito net that surrounds her bed. She would talk to my picture before she went to sleep. I try to keep myself busy so I don’t think about how much I miss them. I rent an apartment at Victoria Park and Lawrence, which costs $575 per month, and until I was let go, I would commute about an hour each day. My daughters are studying hotel and restaurant ­management. They tell me that when they arrive here, they’ll find work, and I’ll finally be able to rest.

The Nanny Diaries: Jesusana Bautista

Jesusana Bautista

Age: 47
From: Nueva Ecija, Philippines
Arrived in Canada: January 2010
Applied for Permanent Residency: June 2013
Caregiver Salary: $2,000 per month
Sends Home: $800 per month
Works In: Yorkville

The small farming business my husband and I owned failed, and we were desperate for money. Our son was only seven when I left for Hong Kong, where I worked from 2000 to 2010, caring for a little boy who lost his mom when he was only six. I became the mother figure in his life. When he turned 13, I felt it was time to move on, and I decided to move to Canada, because I knew that once I got permanent residency, my family could join me, and we’d finally be able to live happily, together.

I was sponsored by a family in Gatineau, Quebec, and I ended up living with them for nearly five years. I earned $1,200 a month. They were kind and very good to me, but they were very demanding; I worked from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Friday.

I moved here last July, and my agency placed me with a family in Yorkville. I look after their three-year-old boy. I live with my cousin and her family. I often think about what it would be like to own a home. My son is 21 now, and I’ve missed a lot of important moments in his life. Since I’ve been in Canada, I’ve only been back once. I talk to my husband and son on Skype every night between 9 p.m. and midnight Toronto time. They always ask about my application. In June, its status changed to “reviewing documents and waiting on final decision.” I don’t know when that decision will be made. When I hear about people who have been approved, I can’t help but get frustrated. I’ve survived mainly because of my dreams, which are simple: I want a house, even if it’s small, and a car. If my husband and son can get good jobs here, I think both things are possible.

(Images: Derek Shapton)