Gatineau, Quebec — More than ever, the Canadian government needs the help of academics and other researchers to better understand newcomers, how they adjust to life in Canada and how to help them thrive. That was the message in Gatineau, Quebec on the opening day of the 16th Metropolis National Conference, an annual gathering of several hundred experts discussing all aspects of migration and settlement in Canada.
The theme of this year’s conference is facilitating integration and inclusion, two elusive concepts that speak to the challenges facing immigrants as they build new lives. Thursday’s opening-day plenary session focused on one of the biggest trends in Canadian immigration policy: the rising number of people arriving in Canada with temporary status who are making the transition to permanent residents after arrival, instead of arriving with permanent resident status. That number has been growing steadily as part of a deliberate policy direction from the federal government, as it opens more and more routes to “permanence” for temporary foreign workers, international students and others.
Originally funded by Citizenship and Immigration, Metropolis was a national network of research centres, an Ottawa secretariat and a national conference. After the federal department ended funding in 2012, the conference became an event organized by the Association for Canadian Studies. Chedly Belkhodja, a member of the association’s board of directors, said the unusual combination of participants is what gives Metropolis its unique energy and made it important to keep it alive.
“It brings together people from universities, researchers, civil servants and civil society, the famous triangle that Metropolis put in place,” says Belkhodja, a professor at Concordia University in Montreal. “It gives each group the opportunity to participate and get valuable information.”
Belkhodja said the theme of this year’s conference underlined the importance of addressing how recent changes to immigration policy are reshaping Canada.
“It’s really important to realize that with new policies and new pathways to permanence, we see new challenges to offer the right services to the right people. We have a growing number of temporary workers and international students and they have different needs than other permanent residents.”
During one plenary session, Derek Kunsken of Citizenship and Immigration Canada made it clear that the public service has a “thirst” for the work being done by researchers.
“We don’t have all the answers,” said Kunsken. “Policy-relevant research can help us give important information to people making decisions.”
Kunsken said when it comes to the well-known difficulty many immigrant professionals face in finding work that fits their education or experience levels, the government needs more and better information to design successful solutions.
“How are industry leaders supporting newcomers now? What are the barriers to employment in small- to medium-sized enterprises?” said Kunsken. “It’s important to keep our eyes on the ball.”
Metropolis 2014 continues through Saturday. For more information visit www.acs-aec.ca