10 Feb Observing the COA seminar for Live-In Caregivers

By: Denise L. Spitzer (PhD), Canada Research Chair in Gender, Migration, and Health – University of Ottawa

The lively chatter and occasional sounds of laughter drifted down the hallway. The volume intensified as I approached the room that indicated that the Canadian Orientation Abroad (COA) seminar for live-in caregivers was in session. I opened the door to an engaging scene—the seats were filled with women and men clustered in groups, talking excitedly while names and contact information were being uploaded to the ubiquitous mobile phones. Names of familiar places punctuated the weave of conversations. So you’re going to Hamilton? I hear Edmonton is really, really cold. Is anyone else going to Nunavut?

Having worked for nearly 20 years with migrants, primarily from the Philippines, who entered Canada under the auspices of the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP), I have repeatedly heard research participants complain that they retained little useful knowledge from the mandatory pre-departure orientation seminars (PDOS) offered by the Filipino Government.

My colleague, Dr. Sara Torres (Université de Montréal) and I were wondering whether this was due to the content, the delivery or the timing of these sessions. We were therefore excited to learn our new research proposal would be funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) via Pathways to Prosperity (P2P), an alliance of university, community, and government partners dedicated to fostering welcoming communities and promoting the integration of immigrants and minorities across Canada. 

Our project, Orientating Live-in Caregivers, entails interviews with prospective LCP/CP workers in the Philippines, those currently working under the Program in Canada as well as those who completed the Program and are awaiting or have obtained Permanent Residency status.

In November 2014, I was in Manila with Ms. Marian Sanchez, my Philippines Research Assistant, along with Ms. Aimee Beboso from the Philippines Migrant Society of Canada, to observe various orientation seminars including the mandatory pre-departure orientation seminars (PDOS) offered by the Philippines government and the recommended, but optional Canadian Orientation Abroad (COA) seminar funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and implemented through the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

While our team in Canada, aided by Ms. Roshelle Wee Eng, is still conducting interviews and focus groups with current and former Filipino caregivers, I wanted to share some of my preliminary observations regarding the Canadian Orientation Abroad (COA) seminar I attended on November 24, 2014. Please note that our formal research findings will be shared in a future COA Newsletter once they are available.

The COA session I observed, led by Ms. Cecilia Leung, was expertly facilitated. She engaged the participants and importantly encouraged them to identify people who would be working nearby and could therefore become part of their social support network.

Prof. Denise Spitzer and Cecilia Leung, COA Manila Facilitator (middle) with a group of Caregivers following the one-day seminar offered by IOM in Manila, Philippines. November 24, 2014.

Second, in contrast to other pre-departure programs we observed, where few questions were entertained and no follow-up was encouraged, Ms. Leung answered questions and made herself available to respond to other queries that might emerge after the session was over. Third, the COA session included some important “reality checks” particularly around how far salaries would stretch given the cost of living in Canada and the funds required to bring family members. Ms. Leung encouraged participants to have a serious talk with their families about their expectations regarding remittances given the amounts they would need to save for future immigration. Fourth, participants greatly appreciated the informational materials they received at the end of session, including contact information of local caregiver support organizations.

As for me, I appreciated the incredibly warm welcome I received from IOM and the COA team in Manila, the helpful information they prepared for me, and being allowed to observe the session. Lastly, I felt unduly proud to be invited to distribute Canadian flags and certificates of attendance at the close of the day. Once we analyze our data we will undoubtedly uncover areas where there is room for improvement; however, from what I have observed to date, the COA is making a very positive contribution in the lives of prospective migrants to Canada.