by Daniel Morton in Vancouver
One year after Canada first resettled 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canadian communities — a number that has since grown to 40,000 — the refugee program has left Canadians divided as to its merit and efficacy. A recent poll by Angus Reid showed that 6 in 10 Canadians approve of the way the government has handled the influx, but a deeper dive into the polling reveal almost one in four Canadians support a Trump style ban on Muslims. Despite its welcoming reputation, Canada has already seen an alarming rise in Islamophobic incidents. At this point, failing to help newcomers settle runs the risk of a more intolerant future in Canada.
In Metro Vancouver, a region that has seen a 20 fold increase in immigration since 2001, newcomers often have trouble navigating the services they need. In 2016, seven Metro Vancouver municipal districts identified access to information and services for newcomers as a top priority to strengthen resettlement efforts. As an example, Metro Vancouver immigrants struggle with backlogs for government funded English lessons while failing to make use of the network of free lessons — many offers are not getting to the people who need them.
At a time when social media discourse about immigrants grows more toxic everyday, Vancouver’s vibrant non-profit community is stepping up with a positive response. Currently a top 10 finalist of the Google.org Impact Challenge, Vancouver-based NGO PeaceGeeks has partnered with the immigrant settlement community to explore how to better connect immigrants to local services such as health, language programs and housing options to ease their transition. PeaceGeeks is one of several Canadian non-profits vying for $750,000 from Google through a public vote to make their project a reality.
The idea for this application builds on another PeaceGeeks project called Services Advisor, a smartphone app that connects refugees to essential humanitarian services like food and medicine across Jordan—a country that has housed almost 656,000 Syrian refugees according to Amnesty International. The Services Advisor prototype was successfully deployed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Jordan and will soon be deployed in Turkey and Somalia to support another 3 million displaced people.
Now, PeaceGeeks is exploring how tools like Services Advisor can help to significantly improve the experience of newcomers arriving in Metro Vancouver and beyond, through generating personalized roadmaps for newcomers to navigate what is often a dizzying array of settlement and community services.
PeaceGeeks intends to build this app so that it can eventually be used across Canada.
“We want to create better visibility and access to existing services and providers while reducing what can be an overwhelming experience for immigrants as they navigate the steps to becoming active and vibrant citizens in their new communities,” says Renee Black, the Executive Director of PeaceGeeks. “Services Advisor Pathways (the Vancouver version) aims to connect them to the most relevant and timely services to help with their particular circumstances at any given stage of their immigration journey.”
The project is being developed in partnership and consultation with cities, local newcomers, immigrant service providers such as MOSAIC, Immigrant Services Society of Canada (ISSofBC) and S.U.C.C.E.S.S., as well as Local Immigration Partnerships (LIPs) across the Metro Vancouver region. LIPs are federally funded, cross-sectoral partnerships that aim to improve integration of newcomers into the fabric of local communities and create more inclusive workplaces.
“By building on their global experience using technology to support refugees combined with innovative approaches that will be developed locally, PeaceGeeks is poised to make a pioneering contribution to the way that immigrants and refugees access information about services in Metro Vancouver,” says Nadia Carvalho, Coordinator of Vancouver’s LIP.
The project has received over thirty endorsements since the beginning of March from key individuals and organizations across settlement, tech and humanitarian spaces, including the B.C. Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens' Services.
“By facilitating the integration of newcomers into British Columbia, this new technology will return benefit the whole Province,” says Minister Amrik Virk.
PeaceGeeks anticipates that Services Advisor Pathways can help reduce the stress on government services, by connecting immigrants to the pathways for success before and upon arrival, straight from their smartphones.
At such a critical time for Canada to stand apart from the closing borders of other nations, PeaceGeeks is hoping that Services Advisor will show that Canada’s strength continues to come from its diversity and inclusion.
For more information about PeaceGeeks’ project, visit votepeacegeeks.org.
The Google.org Impact Challenge supports Canadian nonprofit innovators who are using technology to tackle the world's biggest social challenges. Google.org will award $5 million across 10 organizations to help bring their ideas to life.
Between March 6 and March 28, Canadians are invited to visit g.co/canadachallenge to learn more about the finalists, and to vote for the projects they care about most. One winner will be chosen based on this public vote to receive a $750,000 grant from Google.org. The remaining winners will be selected by a jury during a live pitching session on March 30 in Toronto.
Daniel Morton is a volunteer for the organization.
by Marco Campana in Toronto
When it comes to technology use, immigrants to Canada are well ahead of settlement agencies. It’s a reality the sector needs to face. Organizations can and need to incorporate technology more effectively to serve their clients.
In 2007, Statistics Canada reported that 78 per cent of immigrants who arrived in Canada during the last 10 years used the Internet - a higher percentage than the 75 per cent of people born in Canada who used it.
Yahoo! Canada confirms that trend in its 2014 Digital Acculturation study, which found that, “When it comes to media preferences, new Canadians are digital first, with a particular focus on mobile devices.”
New Canadians are actively using niche social networks, apps and services that are not necessarily mainstream in Canada. They’re coming from countries where Internet growth is explosive, faster, cheaper and where online learning is becoming popular.
Settlement agencies need to explore technology use in source countries like China, India and the Phillipines, to understand the technology profile of newcomers to Canada. In many cases, agencies can start with their own staff members – certainly, they should be asking their clients.
Opportunity for settlement agencies, ethnic media
With the pre-eminence of social media, word of mouth information about immigration and settlement is increasingly shared online. Tens of thousands of newcomers share information and orientation on social networking sites like:
These websites are in English, but there are many more in other languages.
We already know that a relatively small percentage of newcomers access mainstream in-person government and community services. Online social networking sites mean they’re potentially bypassing these services even more.
If newcomers continue to bypass settlement agencies, how informed will they be when it comes to their settlement needs? How effective are newcomer networks and word of mouth? The results are mixed.
In 2010, the Toronto Immigrant Employment Data Initiative found that “immigrants who found their current job through personal initiative, family or friends, and Canada employment centres had the lowest average hourly wages.”
This is not to say that the newcomer networks are not without value or importance. Far from it.
But, it makes me wonder how we can better ensure newcomers’ digital literacy results in better access to settlement information and resources.
There is a role here for settlement agencies. There is also a role for ethnic media. Research has shown that ethnic media can do a much better job informing and orienting newcomers to life in Canada.
Private immigrant-serving businesses and organizations are also looking at how to best use technology and social media to provide services.
In a recent article, Vancouver-based Will Tao wrote about his impressions of how technology is impacting services provided by Canadian immigration lawyers. He notes a few specific trends that should be examined:
Use of technology
While online service is still in its infancy in the settlement sector, there are great examples of innovative agencies offering online and hybrid services across the country.
Organizations like Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, COSTI Immigrant Services, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, CultureLink, South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services, Canadian Immigrant Integration Program, North York Community House and Catholic Crosscultural Services have been offering online services and courses in recent years with much success.
In fact, CultureLink recently completed its first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for newcomers: Create an Expert LinkedIn Profile for Job Search. The pilot course had 2,000 participants.
Last week, ISANS launched its Settlement Online Pre-Arrival service. It’s an important step forward in providing settlement resources online, before newcomers arrive.
The more I speak to individual settlement workers, the more pockets of service innovation I find.
They’re using this tech to serve their clients. They want to do more. However, we’re not harnessing their knowledge and experience to create better organizational systems, or to create policies to drive innovation around the possibilities technology offers as a means of providing service.
We’re certainly not effectively mining and sharing their learning and knowledge across the sector.
As we imagine the settlement agency of the future, we first need to better understand the digital and settlement literacy of immigrants to Canada. It’s time to start asking them how they’re using technology, how they want to interact with us, and where technology fits into this.
For immigrant-serving agencies, the future is right in front of them. The answers lie with their clients.
Marco Campana does freelance communications work with organizations that serve immigrants, refugees and promote diversity. He provides social media support, writing, editing and internal website consultation and strategy. In particular, he helps settlement agencies harness and implement social media and technology in their community service work.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver
Justin Trudeau and the Liberal party’s promise to bring 25,000 refugees to Canada by year-end was commended by refugee advocates during the election period, but many experts have stepped forward since Oct. 19 to say that political will is simply not enough.
“25,000 over two or three months? It can’t be done,” explained Chris Friesen, president of the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance (CISSA), in an interview with New Canadian Media.
Beyond concerns for the government’s large target number, refugee advocates cite problems with the current resources available in Canada to resettle this number of individuals.
Friesen says in order for the government to manage the resettlement movement in an effective and efficient way, it must consider what other efforts have to be made in Canada before significant numbers of refugees arrive.
Gerry Van Kessel, who served as the Director General, Refugees from 1997 to 2001 with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) explained that even if the government were able to get the resources in place to begin moving people by Dec. 1, it would have to move 6,000 people per week to meet the end of year target.
“A thousand a day,” he stated. “Just think of the operation you would need in Canada to receive those people and to move them forward.”
He continued, “The risk of trying to do it may in fact be much more embarrassing than the embarrassment of having to say that a promise they made was not quite realistic.”
Holly Edwards, who also worked with CIC as the Director of Resettlement from 1994 to 1996, says that the scale of this intervention is unlike any she’s seen before.
“I don’t think we’ve ever taken numbers like that so quickly,” she said.
Learning from the past
While the number of refugees the government hopes to resettle is large, Friesen explained similar efforts have been made in years past to bring displaced persons to Canadian shores.
In 1972, 50,000 Ugandans of South Asian origin had been ordered out of the country by the new dictator, Idi Amin.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau in cooperation with the Aga Khan opened Canadian doors to approximately 4,420 refugees fleeing the country. The Canadian government had to move them out on a strict timeline of 60 days.
Another 1,278 would follow in the following months after stopping over to visit family in other countries.
In order to intervene in the 1972 crisis, Canadian officers processed applications in Uganda at the pace of 12 minutes a case.
Similar efforts were made in 1999 when Van Kessel and his team airlifted 5,000 refugees from Kosovo to Canada on temporary visas within just three weeks. The refugees were processed on Canadian soil rather than forced to wait months, or even years, to make the journey to safety.
Friesen said similar measures must be taken today in what he called “the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.”
“Canada could choose to expedite or put in place a process that would allow internally-displaced Syrians to come to Canada, either as permanent resettlement or short-term visits,” Friesen said.
Friesen also suggested that the government could issue more Temporary Resident Permits (TRPs) (formerly termed Minister’s Permits) to those who have been previously denied entry.
While Van Kessel agreed that the situation is dire, he stressed moving forward with caution.
“There’s another real danger in all of this,” he said. “One of the things that’s going to be exceptionally difficult is the checking out the identities and backgrounds of the people who are going to want to come to Canada. The faster you move, the more shortcuts you take.”
Edwards agreed that the government must proceed carefully, but she hopes that prejudice does not win out against humanitarianism.
“Yes they are coming from an area where it’s more sensitive, but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take them,” she said.
Getting Canadian public involved
According to the CISSA, the Canadian people will have to make a significant personal commitment to successfully resettle the thousands of individuals fleeing conflict in Syria.
“We’re going to ask the public [...] what they can offer, be it a room in a house, a suite, a bachelor’s suite, a house that’s sitting empty,” Friesen said. “We’re also going to call on them to volunteer and if they have the financial means we’re going to call on them to donate to our refugee sponsorship account.”
The CISSA will hold a press conference on Nov. 10 at which time the organization plans to call on dentists to provide health-care services and mental health professionals to provide free short-term trauma counselling support.
When asked whether he thought Canadians were going to meet these extraordinary demands, Friesen responded, “I’m totally optimistic. I’m totally hopeful.”
He continued, “Given the response that we’re receiving, that our colleagues are receiving, that the faith community is receiving, I have absolutely complete confidence that local residents will respond to this call.”
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
by Deanna Cheng (@writerly_dee) in Vancouver, British Columbia
Vancouver-based immigrant-settlement organization S.U.C.C.E.S.S. will be opening a new centre in Beijing, China, to help newcomers with the transition to Canada. This makes it the first non-profit to have an overseas pre-arrival centre in a major immigrant source country.
According to a news release, the Active Engagement and Integration Project (AEIP) service centre will provide pre-arrival services such as information on Canadian history, culture, healthcare, transportation, employment, foreign credential recognition and the education system.
The organization has had pre-landing services at overseas offices in South Korea and Taiwan since 2008. This centre will be its first in China and is funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada for the next two years.
Four stages of support
Johnny Cheng, director of AEIP, said services are provided in four components and the end goal for each section is to plan and prepare people for integration.
The first part is an assessment of the challenges each newcomer would face, which allows an action plan to be developed.
“Every immigrant has their own reason for coming to Canada,” Cheng said. “Some may not need a lot of support. Some need information on education because they want to bring their kids to Canada. Others want another career.”
The second part is providing accurate information about a settlement location, its culture and laws.
The director said most people in other countries only understand it’s a free country and it’s why they do as they wish when they arrive.
“For the immigrants from South Korea and Taiwan, they couldn’t tell what Canada is like. To them, there was no difference between B.C. and Ontario.”
The third section is an appointment to go over academic and professional credentials.
Professionals can prepare their paperwork – including translation if necessary – ahead of time and submit them to corresponding trade associations. The organization helps clients put together a resume and provides training on how to do interviews.
Cheng said they also have a program to connect immigrants with potential employers to understand business expectations and facilitate online interviews.
A Vancouver Immigration Partnership document titled "Immigration Matters in Vancouver" said immigrants with specialized professional skills and high educational credentials often have trouble landing jobs in the city.
It said it could be due to lack of information about business practices or credential recognition in Canada.
“Being an immigrant can also mean they lack local Canadian work experience,” the document said. “Many prospective employers don’t give international work experience the same weight as local work experience.”
The work relationship goes both ways as it also said many regulatory organizations struggle to evaluate foreign credentials and work experience.
The final component aims to connect immigrants to community resources. “We link them to the school board, community centres, city government and libraries,” said Cheng. “We also connect with cities to arrange tours for new immigrants to learn more about the city.”
Cheng said a survey on the organization’s services in South Korea and Taiwan showed more than 90 per cent of the immigrants were able to successfully settle down in their selected Canadian neighbourhood within one month of arrival. “They were able to participate in the community and enrol their kids immediately.”
Increasing pre-arrival settlement beneficial for Canada
Over the 40 years the organization has been helping immigrants, Cheng said many people have arrived saying they wanted to find a job and didn’t know they needed specific accreditation, certificates or to obtain a certain level of language proficiency.
“It’s best to do it all before coming to Canada,” he said. “If they understand the language requirement, some can practise for several months – maybe even a year – before arriving.”
This will help them find work faster and become a taxpayer sooner, the director explained, which is a benefit to Canada.
Beijing was selected for a pre-landing centre because it’s the capital city with easy access from neighbouring provinces.
Based on B.C. Stats immigrant landings data obtained by journalist Ian Young, the number one immigrant source country from 2005 to 2013 was China, consistently followed by India (second) and the Philippines (third) during those eight years.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada said out of 258,953 permanent residents in 2013, about 34,000 of them were from China. Again, the data shows the same ranking order between China, India and the Philippines.
Cheng said it’s not easy to have an office in China, especially for a non-profit organization. When applying, the organization had to be clear its objective was to help Chinese people plan for immigration – ones who were already approved – and not recruit people to move to Canada.
Despite this, another AEIP centre is scheduled to open in Shanghai later this year.
After expanding in China, Cheng said the organization would look to expand pre-landing services in Japan, India, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Australia.
The grand opening of the Beijing centre is scheduled for September 2.
by Susan Korah (@waterlilypool) in Ottawa, Ontario
Getting the mainstream media to cover more immigrant issues is something many settlement and advocacy agencies grapple with.
The first of a series of workshops presented by New Canadian Media, a two-hour interactive session entitled “Increasing the Visibility of the Immigrant Service Sector” aimed at addressing this challenge.
The participants – mostly employed as executive directors and communications officers by non-profit settlement and advocacy organizations – were there by invitation to learn how to project their messages to the wider Canadian public, and particularly to the decision-makers who allocate government grants and corporate donations.
One participant said that she was eager to learn from the two high-profile speakers – John Ibbitson, writer at large with the Globe and Mail and Mitchell Kutney, Ottawa blogger and social media expert – because immigration and refugee advocacy groups have been facing multiple challenges in recent years, and there is an urgent need to make them known to all Canadians.
Crack the Fortress of Media Power
Speaking first, Ibbitson introduced the concept of the “Laurentian elite,” which he defined as the small group of media executives, as well as top academics in various fields, who live in the central Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec (especially the major cities of Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal) and control the pages and airwaves of the traditional media.
His central point was that one can wait patiently for another 25 years or so for the demise of the Laurentian elite, or one can be proactive in cracking the group’s closely guarded fortress of media power.
Identifying himself and some of his colleagues as members of this elite, he said that they were mostly white, male, middle-aged or older, and shared the same world-view. They are also desperately fighting for their own survival in a tectonic shift of the media and political landscape, he pointed out. That is a critical point to remember when trying to break into their gated territory, he emphasized.
“I’m 60, white and male, and my newsroom is filled with people like me,” Ibbitson said. “And I’m not prepared to quit right now.”
He explained that, because communications technology is changing at a dizzying pace and there is a very real possibility that traditional media may no longer be financially sustainable within the next 10 years, newsrooms are laying off rather than hiring new staff.
This, he pointed out, combined with the prejudice that some new Canadians hold against about pursuing journalistic careers, is a hindrance to changing the demographics of newsrooms.
Ibbitson cited the example of some brilliant ethnic-minority interns that his newspaper had trained recently, and offered employment to, only to have the opportunity turned down. He speculates this was probably because their immigrant parents disapproved of journalism as a career choice.
Pitch Stories for All Canadians
Regarding the pro-active approach, Ibbitson advised communications professionals to get to know as many journalists as possible, and to pitch stories that fall within the writer’s range of topics and are relevant to all Canadians.
For example, if a country has business opportunities for Canadians, that becomes a relevant story, he said.
On the other hand, as one workshop participant Mohammed Adam, formerly a reporter and now a columnist with the Ottawa Citizen, said: “People used to ask me to write about some country that Canadians have no interest in at all, and my editors wouldn’t go for it.”
Ibbitson said a pitch that would help the beleaguered media industry attract readers/viewers would get a positive response, because there was a definite alignment of interests there. He also elaborated on the increasing importance of business news, pointing out that all of the Globe and Mail’s foreign bureaus concentrate on business.
“Why should we pitch or reach out to you?” asked one of the workshop participants.
“We don’t want to ghettoize. The mainstream media is a platform for all Canadians,” Ibbitson replied. Another reason is that the people who give out funds to immigrant-serving organizations read newspapers like the Globe, he added.
Ride the Social Media Wave
Mitchell Kutney (pictured at right), the workshop’s other featured speaker, is an established Ottawa-based blogger who covers topics related to social enterprise, charity and philanthropy. With over 100,000 followers, he is one of Ottawa’s 10 most highly followed Twitter users.
Kutney’s fast-paced presentation focused on harnessing the incredible potential of Twitter for reaching people outside of one’s “social capital” or usual network of contacts, as well as for securing the attention of key people in the mainstream media.
Some practical tips he gave the audience were:
Asked about the secret of his large following, Kutney said: “I invest an incredible amount of time on my blog and Twitter account and write about controversial topics.”
Our headlines this week: Settlement agencies suffer under federal control + more international students coming to Ontario + Yemen's destruction + federal budget seeks to win over GTA voters + aftermath of Modi's visit + Philippine president to tour Canada + debating diversity + much more
by Aurora Tejeida (@Aurobots) in Vancouver [Part 3 of 3 of an in-depth investigative series]
The settlement service sector across the country is undergoing major changes and facing several challenges as a result. Unlike Ontario and the Atlantic region, both B.C. and Manitoba used to have provincial control of their settlement services. For these provinces, the largest issue has been getting used to federal control.
Settlement in the west coast metropolitan city of Vancouver – one of Canada’s top destinations for migrants with 45 per cent of its population being foreign-born – is no exception.
When the federal government decided to strip control of settlement services from B.C. effective April 1, 2014, the biggest casualty was the freedom agencies had to serve a large array of newcomers.
“Under federal funding, service can only be provided to permanent residents and government sponsored refugees,” explains Karen Larcombe, the executive director of South Vancouver Neighbourhood House (SVNH). “That leaves out naturalized immigrants (those with citizenship), temporary foreign workers, who we used to be able to serve, foreign students, etc.”
It’s been a year since agencies in Vancouver have been working under federal government guidelines and the effects are already being felt. This is why the province of B.C. stepped in to help.
“In our province, these changes have been less impactful because the provincial government has provided some agencies, mine included, surplus funding so we can continue to serve the clients that are ineligible under federal funding,” says Larcombe.
But those resources are limited. Provincial funding represents about 10 per cent of SVNH’s funding. The rest, 90 per cent, is provided by the federal government and can only be used for what the government calls ‘eligible clients’.
“In theory, ineligible clients are supposed to be 10 per cent of our cases,” Larcombe says. “In reality we’re seeing more than the 10 per cent, for us it’s closer to 15 per cent.”
Between 2013 and 2014, British Columbia received 37,451 foreign immigrants; 85 per cent of them settled in Metro Vancouver.
It’s likely these numbers only represent new permanent residents, since they don’t add up when the largest ‘ineligible’ group that Larcombe’s agency sees, which is temporary foreign workers, is taken into account.
“Their numbers are growing. I think temporary foreign workers is where we’re most feeling the pressure,” she explains.
The number of temporary foreign workers in the province increased from 19,283 in 2002 to 69,955 in 2011. Similarly, over 290,000 international students were enrolled in Canadian schools during 2013; 24 per cent of them live and study in B.C., that’s almost 73,000 people. Both groups have no access to settlement services.
Another casualty has been the time workers can devote to clients. Under the federal government there’s more extensive recording required, so workers spend more time inputting data into the system.
“The federal government wanted everybody across Canada to deliver services under the same way. So part of that was having the same information and the same data to get a better picture across the whole country,” says Larcombe.
“From a funder’s perspective, that makes sense. But from a service delivery perspective, that means that we lose control over what our services look like. So something that works in Ontario, might not necessarily work in Vancouver.”
Aside from B.C., Manitoba was the only other province that lost control of its funding in the last couple of years; now settlement services in Manitoba fall under federal regulations.
Jorge Fernandez is the executive director of the Manitoba Immigrant Centre. Like his counterpart in Vancouver, he says the biggest change has been the type of clients that settlement services can help.
“We can no longer help temporary foreign workers or foreign students,” explains Fernandez. “And the province of Manitoba is not offering any extra funding.”
Fernandez says 20 per cent of the approximately 18,000 clients his agency saw last year are what the government considers ‘ineligible’.
“It was difficult for us to close the door on clients, so we secured some private funding. We managed to raise $50,000 to hire one worker to see this group of people,” he adds.
The funds came from private donations and Winnipeg foundations. But even with the extra funding, the agency was only able to help 2,000 out of 5,000 clients that have asked for help, but are deemed ‘ineligible’.
Out of those ‘ineligible’ clients, Fernandez says 50 per cent are temporary foreign workers, 25 per cent are international students and the remainder is a mix of visitors and Canadian citizens — a group agencies in both Manitoba and B.C. consider important due to the fact that they may have only been in the country for a couple of years.
“We wish we could see everybody,” says Fernandez. “If we had more funding we could hire another worker and see more people.”
He hopes things will improve if there is a change in government, especially since some current migration policies don’t make sense to him.
“We are bringing temporary foreign workers into the country, and we have the Express Entry program, so we need the workers, we need labour force. So if we’re bringing them here, why aren’t we providing services for them?”
Is Sanctuary the Only Solution?
Byron Cruz is a community worker and an advocate for all types of migrants in Vancouver. He works with an outreach group called Sanctuary Health. For the last year or so, his organization, along with many more, has been participating in the mayor’s immigration task force. The main item of the agenda is to obtain sanctuary city status in Vancouver.
“Every settlement agency depends on the CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) because all or most of their funding comes from the federal government, so instead of helping local communities, they’re doing CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency)’s job,” says Cruz.
Cruz explains that a group of undocumented mothers had recently approached him because they wanted to take a workshop that was offered by a local settlement agency, but that the agency denied them the service.
“Many agency workers want to help, but they have to do it outside office hours, because otherwise they risk losing their jobs or their funding,” he adds. “It’s a system that discriminates.”
Still, several agencies have helped pen the sanctuary city policies Cruz hopes will be completely adopted by Vancouver sometime this year. Agency workers like Larcombe agree that these policies would help those that are most in need.
“At this point there are more vulnerable migrants that we would be able to help if the city was granted a sanctuary city status,” she explains. “It’s difficult for these migrants to break through the poverty barrier.”
By ‘vulnerable migrants’ Larcombe means undocumented migrants, another group agencies are barred from helping. A 2009 House of Commons immigration committee report estimates that the number of undocumented immigrants in Canada ranges anywhere from 80,000 to 500,000.
But even without taking undocumented immigrants into account, the reality is that many of B.C.’s newcomers are not being granted access to settlement services under federal regulations.
“We need changes to ensure that those people are protected,” says Larcombe. “Even if technically it wouldn’t fall into the federal government’s mandate.”
In previous 360º instalments, NCM looked at the state of settlement services in Ontario, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. Be sure to read all three parts of this investigative series to get a sense of how several provinces across the country are dealing with a changing settlement system.
by Brad Dunne (@BradDunne1796) in St. John’s [Part 2 of an in-depth investigative series]
The face of Canada’s immigration system has been changing drastically. With the federal government scaling back on settlement service funding in parts of central Canada, the situation is even bleaker in the Atlantic region, where funding is hard to come by.
The Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council (RIAC), for example, is on life support. With the recent uncertainty in the value of oil, the private businesses who were RIAC’s prominent donors were forced to cancel their regular donations. The non-profit NGO has had to lay off its staff and is surviving month to month on private donations and volunteers.
“The drop in oil has affected us all,” says Jose Rivera, executive director of RIAC. Much like Alberta, oil is the dominant force in Newfoundland’s economy.
RIAC’s decline comes at a precipitous time for the province. According to a recent article in the Globe and Mail, by John Ibbitson, jobs are disappearing, young people are leaving and the population keeps getting older.
As a solution, Ibbitson urges the province, and other regions in Atlantic Canada facing similar challenges, to “aggressively recruit immigrants, to slow the aging of the population while injecting new energy and ideas.”
Traditionally, however, Atlantic Canada has not been a hub for newcomers. Governments have been sluggish in developing recruitment strategies.
“Conventional wisdom is that newcomers would rather go to cities like Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver,” explains Rivera.
“In fact, newcomers are happy to be here, but they don’t get the support they need. They leave for the big cities because they think that’s where they’ll get help.”
While settlement services in central Canada are far from ideal, they do seem to be more of a priority there than with the Newfoundland government. This is presumably because the number of newcomers settling in the Atlantic province is low. According to Stats Canada, in 2014, Newfoundland only took 0.4 per cent of Canada’s total immigrants.
However, Rivera believes that if Newfoundland were to commit to immigration, the numbers would increase.
Rivera came to St. John’s, Newfoundland, as a refugee from Columbia in 2002. He started working with RIAC in 2004.
In the last 10 years, the organization’s annual budget has grown from $5,000 to $100,000. RIAC has come to play an integral role in helping immigrants and refugees in a province that has historically struggled in retaining newcomers.
“We are in danger of losing all the work and progress we’ve accomplished,” Rivera says.
RIAC receives no government funding. In fact, The Association for New Canadians is the only organization that offers government funded services in Newfoundland. Rivera says this is insufficient, as in other parts of Canada the government makes much more significant investments in settlement.
Newcomers need more robust services when they come to Newfoundland.
“There is no manual they can just pick up at the airport,” Rivera says. “It’s our job to fill that gap of knowledge.”
A Leading Example
As Ibbitson points out in his article, Prince Edward Island (PEI) is bucking the trend in Atlantic Canada.
By making extensive use of the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) and a sophisticated coordination of its settlement services, PEI has been able to attract and retain newcomers in droves.
According to PEI’s Association for New Canadians (ANC), PEI has 0.4 per cent of Canada’s population and it attracts 0.5 per cent of the nation’s immigration. Meanwhile, Newfoundland, with 1.4 per cent of the country’s population, attracts only 0.4 per cent of its immigrations.
As well, in the past eight years, PEI’s retention rates have improved from approximately 20 to over 40 per cent.
The secret to PEI’s success is how the province integrates its settlement services with various stakeholders, a strategy it developed in 2010 (seen below).
Much of this is achieved by Island Investment Development, Inc. (IIDI), a crown corporation that develops, implements and manages programs and services focused on increasing PEI’s population.
Craig Mackie, executive director of PEI’s ANC, explains, “The three keys to integration and retention are learning the language, employment and social inclusion.”
The province offers free English language classes – funded by the federal and provincial governments – for permanent residents.
In regards to employment, PEI’s PNP has two main categories to address its economic needs: the labour impact category and the business impact category.
The former is geared towards attracting skilled or temporary workers and is employer-driven. The latter is meant to attract foreign nationals to invest and manage a business in PEI.
Applicants who meet the criteria enter into an escrow agreement with the province to 100 per cent own, partially own or begin investing in a business in the province.
From 2013-14, PEI had 389 applicants for the 100 per cent ownership stream.
Mackie says the ANC is busy working on the third element, social inclusion. To that end, the ANC recently organized a gathering of over 100 people to discuss ways to make the province more welcoming to newcomers.
“We still haven’t gotten over ‘Islander’ mentality,” Mackie says. “That people born in the province are ‘Islanders’ and that newcomers are ‘Come From Aways.’ We are all Islanders.”
Like PEI, Newfoundland also struggles with an “Islander” mentality.
“Friendly people don’t necessarily make friends,” remarks Lois Berrigan, settlement services manager at the ANC in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Though Newfoundlanders have a reputation for hospitality and friendliness, “Come From Aways”, or “CFAs”, are terms that are heard often. Though rarely intended with malice, the separation is obvious.
Ben Waring, the diversity coordinator at the St. John’s ANC, agrees. “The population has been homogenous for so long. There’s going to be growing pains.”
Nonetheless, there have been high profile success stories of integration in the province. The CBC series "Land and Sea" ran an episode entitled “The Southern Shore Sri Lankans,” which profiled two Sri Lankan mechanics and their families, who’d immigrated to the rural town of Cape Broyle.
Rural, or “outport,” Newfoundland is the sort of homogenous area that would presumably struggle with newcomers, so stories like these illustrate how the province may be ready to embrace multiculturalism.
Furthermore, of the Atlantic region, Newfoundland is best positioned economically to invest heavily in a more robust settlement network. It is also arguably the most in need of immigration.
Oil revenue has helped fill government coffers, but unemployment remains high at 15.6 per cent.
And, by 2020, the province anticipates that 70,000 jobs will be available, most of which will be the result of attrition, but 7,700 of those will be new positions. Of these positions, 66.7 per cent will be in management occupation and will require a post-secondary education.
Moreover, Newfoundland is old and getting older. According to the 2014 census, Newfoundland had the highest median age (44.6) and it is projected that 31 per cent of the population will be 65 years and older by 2036.
By mimicking PEI, Newfoundland could lower its unemployment by injecting the economy with new investors and entrepreneurs, while simultaneously rejuvenating the population with young families.
“We need to increase our population,” says Berrigan. “Soon, we’ll fall back to ‘have-not’ status. We’ve got to do something.”
Rivera agrees. “For our needs, the province needs at least five settlement services working together.” At present there are three, the ANC, RIAC, and the Multicultural Women’s Organization of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Nonetheless, the issue right now is quality, not quantity. There is a lack of cooperation among stakeholders and services. Newcomers are not able to cut through the red tape and access the services they need; Newfoundland needs it own Island Investment Development, Inc. of sorts.
For now, though, Newfoundland, and the rest of Atlantic Canada, would be wise to imitate PEI – the overachieving sibling.
In the previous 360º instalment, NCM looked at settlement services in Ontario. The final piece in this series will move westward to examine the state of settlement in provinces like British Columbia and Manitoba.
Our headlines this week: The future of settlement services + Canadian Immigration Summit 2015 + U.S.-Iran nuclear deal + dividing the Vietnamese diaspora + agenda for Modi's visit to Canada + phoney marriages + Rwandan exiles denounce embassy + anti-Roma bias + much more.
by Abbas Somji (@abbassomji) in Toronto [Part 1 of 3 of an in-depth investigative series.]
For over two decades, Canada has welcomed an average of 250,000 immigrants per year. These newcomers often settle into any one of the country’s major metropolitan centres, chiefly Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal or Calgary.
For countless new immigrants, uprooting their families and rebuilding their lives from scratch in Canada is made easier with the help of settlement agencies. But the future of some government-funded settlement agencies now hangs in limbo – including in Ontario, which boasts hundreds of agencies catering to newcomers.
Many of these organizations anxiously await the unveiling of Canada’s federal budget on April 21.
“Is there going to be another reduction? What is the scale of the reduction?” wonders Moy Wong-Tam, Executive Director of Toronto-based Centre for Immigrant and Community Services (CICS).
“Every year, you hold your breath not knowing what to expect for that year,” she says, adding that her organization is “falling behind inflation.”
“[The government says], ‘here’s the reduced budget, but you cannot cut the programs and services.’ So what do we cut? We’re bare bones. I can’t cut the rent. I can’t cut the heat or light.”
Wong-Tam says the CICS has been open for over 40 years, 25 years of which Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has funded.
However, 2012 proved to be a challenging year for the industry, when at least 15 agencies were affected by the cuts to federal funding, though none of those agencies have yet closed. The Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) says, "The province stepped in, in a big way and supported eight of the organizations with significant funds to continue services and to build their capacity.
For Wong-Tam, this has resulted in stagnated wages and poor talent retention.
“We just feel that maybe it’s not seen as a priority,” says Wong-Tam.
“It’s not good morale for the people who work in this sector,” she adds. “They work here because they’re not about money, they really want to help newcomers. The majority of our staff are, or have been, a newcomer at one point in their lives.”
“I think a lot of the agencies out there have been incredibly hard-hit because they’re so reliant on settlement for all their funding,” says Paulina Wyrzykowski, of the family & newcomer program at West Neighbourhood House, a non-profit social service agency in Toronto.
“I think that that kind of repeated cuts really lends itself to feeling targeted,” says Wyrzykowski.
The Waiting Game
Wyrzykowski says previous cuts to funding were part of the government’s “economic vision.”
“I do think the government is invested in immigration. The overall numbers of immigrants haven’t gone down. But I do believe they’re hoping to bring in people who will be more self-sufficient earlier,” she says.
According to the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), the provincial government funds about 97 agencies across Ontario with approximately $8 million. The federal government invests almost $296 million in over 200 organizations.
“That’s the scale, and yet, with that part of money, with the bulk of that money, the agencies can only serve those with permanent residency,” says OCASI Executive Director Debbie Douglas. “No students, no migrant workers, no citizens.”
The initial cuts were a result of what Wong-Tam calls “proportional geographic distribution,” in which tax dollars follow the immigrants. Ontario reportedly lost its lion’s share of funding to Alberta in 2012 when the government noticed more of a shift in immigration patterns, with more newcomers finding employment opportunities in the oil-rich province.
Since then, there’s been a boomerang effect, and a spike in secondary migration, with more newcomers feeling isolated in Western Canada and moving to Ontario because of the province’s diverse communities.
“Now that Alberta may be losing its glow, we don’t know what will happen with the flow of immigration,” says Wong-Tam. “We just feel that we need to have a certain level of stability and not have very drastic changes in a very short time… because once you’ve lost an organization, they’re gone. It takes a while to develop a new organization or for others to pick up the slack.”
Meanwhile, Wyrzykowski insists there is a clear reason for why the federal government chooses to fund certain groups over others.
“All of the changes that I’ve seen in the last few years were basically designed to make sure that the people who get into Canada are ones that will contribute economically immediately, and in the government’s mind – require minimal settlement support,” she says.
In 2014, the federal government unveiled the International Education Strategy, outlining an ambitious goal of nearly doubling the number of international researchers and students it attracts at the post-secondary level.
The strategy aims to have at least 450,000 international students by the year 2022 – up from just over 239,000. The initiative is an effort to create jobs and stimulate the domestic economy.
Wong-Tam argues Canada has a “moral obligation” to help the influx of students who will be coming to the country, even though her own organization technically cannot.
“We were funded to help immigrants, but we were not funded to help international students,” she says. “But it’s very plain to us the needs are there.”
She says the organization is seeing a steady rise in the number of students from China, India and South Korea coming to Canada – many of whom are intent on acquiring permanent residency status after completing their studies.
Wong-Tam insists they make ideal candidates as they have invested the time and money to learn about the country and the language and have integrated into Canadian society from their time spent here during their studies.
Douglas says a 2012 OCASI research project, titled ‘Making Ontario Home’, revealed how little newcomers knew about support services available to them.
“What we found was upwards of 30 per cent of international students didn’t even know there was such a thing as settlement services, which was a real concern for us,” says Douglas.
“[It] means the sector isn’t doing a good job in terms of promoting it, but then you understand why promote it if the bulk of the services is not eligible for those students?”
Wong-Tam says international students need settlement agencies to inform them of things such as safety issues and fraud prevention as depriving them of that exposure could potentially compromise Canada’s reputation overseas. Recent tragedies involving foreign students from East Asia, including a high-profile murder case of a York University international student, highlight this point.
For now, Wong-Tam has launched a pilot project, working alongside universities and colleges to host basic orientation sessions, to inform foreign students of what they need to know in order to thrive in their newly adopted country.
A Roller Coaster Ride
“For the past three years, it seems every week there’s a new policy,” says Wong-Tam, who adds the situation did eventually stabilize in 2014.
“Hopefully things will be more stable because it’s like a roller coaster ride for agencies to keep coping with different changes,” says Wong-Tam, adding that it’s extra work for settlement staff who must spend more time keeping up with the news.
“I think the agencies in Ontario are feeling traumatized,” says Douglas, who adds that she’s anticipating further decreases in federal funding in Ontario, B.C. and the Atlantic region.
“We’re worried about the capacity of the community to sustain the services in the long haul,” says Wong-Tam. “If policies change very drastically, then we have to be prepared. You have to give enough time for planning and for implementation… It’s not an enviable position to be in.”
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this report erroneously reported that, "However, 2012 proved to be a challenging year for the industry, when at least 15 agencies reportedly lost all of their funding and had to shut down. Since then, there have been relentless cuts to the settlement service industry." NCM is happy to provide more context and thus have a more informed discussion around these cuts. We regret the mistaken impression that the earlier report may have left with our readers.
In the next 360° installment, we turn our focus to the Atlantic region – a part of Canada that has historically struggled to attract and retain newcomers due to a lack of employment opportunities.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit