Editor's note: This is the first in a four-part series on Canada's oil boom.
FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta — Alesha Grant hired Ann Klein Caisido almost immediately, though they had only met once via Skype. It is easy to see why. Caisido is the live-in nanny to Grant’s two daughters, 4-year-old Anna and 8-month-old Olivia. She is calm and easygoing, willing to crawl with the girls into the tent at the center of the living room, which is brimming with toys.
Caisido’s warm, reliable demeanor was reassuring, given that both Grant and her husband work long hours and sometimes unpredictable schedules. Grant is a full-time nurse in Fort McMurray, the rapidly expanding northern Alberta boomtown at the heart of the oil sands, the tarry, semi-solid form of crude found in this part of Canada. Her husband is a power engineer at the Suncor site, one of two major oil-sands developments within commuting distance of the town. Normally, he works six days on, followed by six days off. But Caisido’s personality was not her only attractive trait. A native of the Philippines who lived in Hong Kong until the end of March, she is an immigrant worker on a Canadian live-in-caregiver visa. That status ties her to the Grants. For the next two years, she cannot leave the nanny job if she wants to stay in Canada, unless she has another work sponsor and permit lined up.
Caisido is one of about 500 nannies who immigrated to Canada as live-in caregivers and are looking after the children of Fort McMurray. In this town of strip malls and new cookie-cutter suburban developments, the oil sands are by far the main source of employment. They have made its residents the most affluent of any Canadian city, with an average household income of $191,507 Canadian ($152,885 U.S.). This is why the town is nicknamed “Fort McMoney.” However, the town’s residents also work the longest hours in the country, with schedules in the oil patch that often consist of 12-hour shifts for days at a time. This places enormous pressure on families and has created a demand for people like Caisido who are willing to move halfway across the world to work in Fort McMurray’s service industry for a fraction of the wages paid to oil-industry workers. (Caisido earns close to the provincial minimum wage of $10.20 an hour, whereas salaries for oil-patch workers begin in the high five figures). And it is not just the nannies: A walk through the local Subway, Wal-Mart and the fast-food joint Sobey’s reveals a floor staff constituted primarily of immigrants.