S-P-H-Y-G-M-O-M-A-N-O-M-E-T-E-R. The instructor, a qualified nurse, writes the long word on the blackboard, explaining as she puts down each letter what it means: a device used to measure blood pressure. “Blood pressure is ideally measured on the left arm for more accuracy as the heart is located on the left side. And the Sphygmomanometer should be placed at a height on par with the heart,” she says. She also explains the difference between systolic and diastolic, the different kinds of arteries and where each is located.
The students, at this “nanny institute”, take notes diligently. They are all aspirant “caregivers”, hoping to go to Canada. The six-month training offered by this school, and others like it, locally described as “nanny institutes”, is the minimum requirement for a Canadian caregiver work permit, provided the candidate has an offer of employment from Canada, usually from a Punjabi family. For Punjabis dreaming of better opportunities abroad, a caregiver visa is now one of the best white collar ways to get into Canada.
The Liberal government in Canada recently tabled an immigration strategy under which it proposes to take in nearly one million immigrants over the next three years — 3.1 lakh economic immigrants, family reunifications and refugees in 2018; 3.3 lakh in 2019, and 3.4 lakh in 2020. Around 58 per cent of the immigrants would be economic migrants, including professionals. Caregivers are a part of this.
Traditionally, people from Punjab have gone to Canada as plumbers, carpenters, electricians and welders. “Going to Canada as caregiver is a relatively new trend. After an initial boom, there was a downturn in 2009 when the processing time took much longer due to the increasing number of aspirants. Since last year, there is again a boom as rules were changed. Now a caregiver need not live with the family round-the-clock, but for a minimum eight hours in a day,” said Gursharan Sodhi, who runs the Chandigarh-based Cali Healthcare Resources (CHR), which came up in 2002 and has had a caregiver course for more than a decade now.
There are about 10 institutes in the Chandigarh and Mohali areas alone offering the “nanny course”, charging between Rs 60,000 and Rs 90,000. Staying as a paying guest can take the cost up to Rs 2 lakh. The number of students varies between 10 and 30. A network of agents offers “packages” to the aspiring immigrants, complete with the “nanny” course and a job offer from Canada.
Armed with a certificate from a training institute, and a signed agreement of employment, a visa applicant can apply for a two-year work permit. After two years of working as a caregiver, the candidate is free to apply for a permanent residency in Canada.
The minimum educational qualification for the course is 10+2 pass. The content includes lessons in Anatomy and Physiology, Paediatric Nursing, Geriatric Nursing, Care of Disabled. The students learn about the contents of a first aid kit, difference between dressing and bandage, common symptoms of an ill child, cardiac massage techniques, artificial respiration, and even how to manage a thumb-sucking four-year-old. Besides, the institute also imparts lessons in personality development and English, as proficiency in English is a requirement.
“There is no board or supervisory body for a nanny course in India. We offer the course based on the curriculum of the National Association of Career Colleges,” said G L Kaushal, who runs the National Institute Chandigarh.
Among the students at the Chandigarh institutes are an engineering graduate, a biotechnologist, and a fashion technology student.
Jatinder Kaur, 22, is an economics graduate from Kapurthala and is enrolled with Chandigarh Immigration. She described the course as “first aid, taking care of children and elderly, prescription reading”. And admitted that her goal is Canada. “I will get a good salary and better environment there.”
Fellow student Sukhjeet Singh, a 25-year-old electrical engineer from Hoshiarpur and the son of a Punjab Police inspector, said there is no money in engineering jobs. “I worked as an engineer for three years. I was getting about Rs 20,000 as salary. As a nanny in Canada, I hope to easily make more than Rs 1 lakh.”
Not all will continue to work as caregivers once in Canada, and might switch to other jobs after becoming permanent residents, said an immigration expert in Chandigarh. “The majority of Punjabi immigrants do not want to work at someone’s home abroad. Also, the many Punjabi families in Canada who give job offers do not want a nanny either. It has become a sort of business for many to charge money for paperwork. For others, it is a way to help relatives and friends enter Canada,” said the expert, wishing not to be named.
Explaining the process, the immigration expert said, “The job has to be advertised four times in local media in Canada over a time interval. Subsequently, the potential employer has to make a case that no locals are available for the job, and submit a Labour Market Impact Assessment document, required for hiring a foreign worker. Usually, the language barrier is cited for not hiring a local person. Usually, the advertisement will say only Punjabi-knowing people are eligible.”
Sodhi denied any violation of the visa. “There are adequate checks and balances and the Canada government is smart enough to ensure there is no misuse,” he said.
National Institute Chandigarh owner G L Kaushal said caregiver employers usually cross-check several times to ensure that the probable caregiver does the job diligently once abroad.
Students at the institutes confessed that they had tried unsuccessfully for US or Canadian visas earlier. “My family is settled in the United States. But the US turned down my visa twice citing that I was overage. There is no upper age limit for caregiver job,” said Rupinder Kaur, 26, who has come from Amritsar to the CHR institute.
Mukesh Kalyan has come from Nangal for training at National Institute Chandigarh. “I was working as store in-charge in a steel factory in Himachal Pradesh,” said Kalyan.
A woman from Faridkot, with a B.Sc in Biotechnology, said her application for visa for Canada under the hairstylist category was rejected a few years back. She hid her B.Sc. qualification at the time of application.
Sukhwinder Kaur, 30, said her husband was in Bahrain. “I am hopeful to make it to Canada. Else, I can always go to Bahrain,” she said.