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Gender-Based Barriers to Settlement and Integration for Live-In-Caregivers: A Review of the Literature




Denise Spitzer and Sara Torres


Thousands of individual migrants, primarily women, have entered Canada under the auspices of the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP). The LCP enables qualified foreign applicants to enter the country to care for children, the elderly, or persons with disabilities in their own homes. After working for a period of 24 months, LCP workers are eligible to apply for permanent residency status and, ultimately, citizenship (Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) 1999; Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) 2006). What do we know about this group of migrants? What kinds of challenges do they face? How are they integrating into Canadian society? The primary objective of this literature review is to identify and analyze the gender-based barriers experienced by live-in
caregivers in Canada from 1990 to 2007.

The literature suggests that live-in caregivers are most definitely disadvantaged in their efforts to settle and integrate into Canadian society. Significantly, the challenges they face emerge from both their status, primarily as women from the global south, and from the policies and
characteristics of the LCP itself. As the demand for domestic care workers has increased, so, too, have opportunities for women, who appear, on average, to be more faithful remitters than men to make contributions from Canada to the subsistence of their families in their home country. Carework, particularly when conducted in private households, is generally regarded as “natural” to women and granted little value as skilled labour. The private, gendered, and flexible nature of the labour appears to render the work outside of the conventional association of paid labour with the
public domain and the more structured job descriptions of industrial labour. Resultantly, domestic care work tends to evade the realm of standard labour legislation and social protection. The consequences of these realities are that those who undertake this labour undergo a process of deskilling and erosion of social status. Separated from family, and working and living in the private household of
their employer, their freedom of association and, likewise, their access to social support is diminished. Temporary status and lack of access to professional educational opportunities under the LCP contribute to a sense of liminality and stall, if not defer, dreams for a better life for themselves in Canada.

Few studies (Pratt and PWC 203; Spitzer, Torres, et al 2007) have followed former LCP workers with regards to their labour trajectories; however, these studies found that many informants were downwardly mobile in terms of social status, although it appears that younger, single migrants
may be more apt to re-train for a career. As for many other newcomers, exclusion from opportunities to meet Canadian professional criteria, and lack of recognition of foreign credentials and experience are major barriers to labour-market participation commensurate with their educational and
employment backgrounds.
Evidence of the exploitation and abuse of live-in caregivers abounds. The time constraints of the LCP appear to play a role in workers’ decisions to remain with abusive or exploitative employers, because any time lost between contracts delays completion of the Program and, thereby,
threatens either longer separation from their families or deportation. Again, the private nature of the work, its ambiguous coverage under labour legislation, the lack of monitoring of contracts which places the onus on the temporary worker to file complaints, and lack of awareness of their rights and support services, further a link between LCP regulations and vulnerability to violence. Importantly,
the behaviour of individual employers who may well value their employee and honour their contracts, can but only slightly mitigate, rather than eliminate, the systemic and symbolic violence that is structured by the LCP, and which contributes to de-skilling, erosion of self respect, loss of
control over their immediate environment, and enforced separation from family and friends.

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CERIS Working Paper

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Economic sectors

Occupations in services - Domestic work

Content types

Policy analysis and Documented cases of abuse

Target groups

Policymakers, Journalists, Researchers, Unions, and NGOs/community groups/solidarity networks

Geographical focuses

Canada, Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, British Columbia, Other provinces, Federal, Nova Scotia, and National relevance

Spheres of activity

Cultural and ethnic studies, Gender and sexuality studies, and Sociology