Seventeen years after Marcelina Gilles came to Toronto from the Philippines to care for other people’s kids, she’s still desperately fighting for a chance to care for her own.
“I will be 61 in March. I am not young anymore. When will I be able to reunite with my family here?” a tearful Gilles asks.
The former live-in caregiver, who came to Canada in 1999 — when her kids were just 11, 10 and 8 — has been battling with the immigration department to have them join her here since she qualified to apply for permanent residency in 2002.
Her kids, Michelle, Joshua and Anicee, are now 28, 27 and 25, and all three are parents themselves — and she’s still fighting.
“Marcelina has been trapped in different sets of rules that have all worked against her,” said Gilles’ immigration lawyer, Patricia Wells, who has been representing her since 2006. “The delay is not her fault. There are no good reasons why the processing should have taken so long.”
Although she finally became a citizen last year, her epic battle with Canadian officials drags on with her husband, three children and three grandchildren still waiting back home — now into the 17th year.
A registered nurse in Manila, Gilles was in her 40s when she came here under what was then the live-in caregiver program, which gave foreign caregivers — and their immediate family abroad — access to permanent resident status after they met the minimum two-year live-in employment hours.
“I came to Canada so my family could join me and have a better future. I have always been a good worker, caring for Canadians. I’ve never been on government assistance,” said Gilles, who has cared for both children and the elderly in her role as a caregiver.
She has hit stumbling block after stumbling block.
After applying for permanent residency in 2002, her application was rejected because her husband, Lolito Bonifacio, was diagnosed with chronic renal failure and did not pass the medical exam.
She continued to work in Canada to support her family until 2006, when her work permit expired. However, she was allowed to remain here while her permanent residence application under humanitarian and compassionate (H&C) grounds was being processed.
It took the immigration department five years to finally issue Gilles her permanent status in 2011, which would allow her to sponsor her family to Canada.
“The live-in caregiver program automatically included all family members, but the H&C application can’t include anyone else. Just the H&C processing took Marcelina five years,” said Wells. “She has been waiting for the processing of the sponsorship ever since. In the meantime, her children have all aged out (and can no longer be considered dependants).”
Under changes to the law by the former Conservative government in 2014, children must be 18 or younger to be considered dependants (reduced from 21).
While family sponsorship applications now take 16 months on average to process, Gilles’ application has been in the system for three years.
To try to meet the income threshold to sponsor her family — her husband, three kids and three grandchildren — Gilles said she had worked 78 hours a week until December, when the husband of the elderly couple she cared for passed away.
The immigration department noted Gilles included seven dependants on her application, though her income could only support herself and three dependants. To sponsor seven family members, the sponsor must make $80,153 a year. Gilles made roughly $63,000 annually in the few past years.
“The department contacted Ms Gilles and informed her that her income was only sufficient to support a family of four. She was also told that four of the dependants on her applications were likely ineligible to be sponsored as they no longer met the department’s definition of a dependant,” department spokesperson Remi Lariviere said in an email.
“Ms Gilles indicated that she did not wish to remove anyone from her application. She asked that her application be given humanitarian and compassionate consideration. A decision should come in the near future.”
Gilles, who has only been back to the Philippines three times through the years to visit her family, said she understands that technically she is not eligible to bring her family here, but she hopes immigration officials can show compassion and take into account all of her hard work and perseverance.
“I have worked all my life to improve the life of my family, so my children could go to school and have a more comfortable life. I cry a lot because the family is always separated,” she says, choking back tears. “We don’t deserve the years of separation.”