Comments on settlement and integration to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration

Comments on settlement and integration
to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration 16 April 2003

The Canadian Council for Refugees is an umbrella organization, made up of approximately 170 members, committed to the protection of refugees and the settlement of refugees and immigrants in Canada. We therefore welcome the opportunity to make comments to the Standing Committee on the various issues related to settlement and immigration that the Committee has identified.

Pre-arrival counselling and orientation services
The CCR endorses the value of pre-arrival counselling and orientation services.  In December 2000, the CCR held a workshop on overseas pre-departure orientation for refugees, and found that it is of demonstrated benefit.  Unfortunately it is only offered to some refugees destined to Canada and the CCR therefore strongly urges that the program be expanded to all refugee processing posts overseas.

More generally, the CCR underlies the importance of making available to prospective immigrants and refugees accurate information about life in Canada.  This information should include references to settlement services, so that newcomers know that they can turn to specialized organizations.  It is also important that information be given that allow prospective immigrants to develop realistic expectations of life in Canada, since our members report that some newcomers to Canada are bitterly disappointed with their experiences here when they find their hopes are not matched by the realities.

The obstacles to integration and participation that are faced, including the problems relating to the recognition of foreign experience and accreditation
In Best Settlement Practices, a document produced by the CCR in 1998, we identified the following key areas that need to be addressed in order for newcomers to achieve full participation in Canadian society:

 * Language
 * Access to Employment
 * Cultural orientation
 * Recognition of qualifications and experience
 * Racism/Discrimination
 * Family reunification
 * Immigration status
 * Building Communities

To this list should probably be added housing, a challenge that has grown significantly for newcomers (as for other Canadians) since 1998. It is important to recognize that these challenges need to be addressed not only by newcomers, but also by the host society.  Integration is a two-way street.  While everyone takes for granted that newcomers will have to make adaptations in order to settle into their new home, it is more often forgotten that the host society also needs to adapt itself to accommodate its new members.

Access to meaningful employment is and has long been a key challenge for newcomers.  The fact that many refugees and immigrants are seriously underemployed means not only a loss for the individuals, but a loss for the Canadian economy and society.  Ironically, although Canada recognizes that immigration is good for the country (we have the highest per-capita rate of immigration in the world), we have not adapted our employment sector to take account of what immigrants can contribute.  Too often immigrants, even those selected precisely for their professional skills, find that their skills are not recognized and used once in Canada.  Partly this is because Canadian employers have difficulty understanding what foreign-acquired diplomas and experience represent in Canadian terms.  Partly the problem is one of protectionist attitudes among professional associations.

Newcomers arriving in Canada will often need "bridge" training to supplement the training they have received in their home country and prepare them for the specific requirements of the Canadian job market.  However, such training opportunities are often unavailable, or there is no funding available (often because they are not EI eligible).

It is encouraging that the federal government has at last made a concrete commitment to address the problem of foreign credentials.  Follow up on this needs to be given high priority.  The CCR notes the importance of involving in the process all those working toward the recognition of foreign trained professionals.  Evaluation of the outcomes of this initiative need to be based on detailed demographic indicators, broken down by gender, age and country of origin, to ensure that benefits are shared by all categories of newcomers.

The CCR is also calling for Human Resources Development Canada to recognize newcomers as a priority group, alongside their existing priorities of women, youth, aboriginal people and people with disabilities.  This measure would recognize that newcomers are disadvantaged in the labour market and need special measures to ensure their full participation into the Canadian labour market.

Government-funded settlement services
Settlement services, provided by community-based organizations, play a vital role in assisting refugees and immigrants in these challenges, as well as in sensitizing the wider society to the adjustments it needs to make in order to welcome newcomers.

Unfortunately, settlement services are often poorly understood outside the sector and are in some ways marginalized in the same way that newcomers themselves are often marginalized.  There is inadequate funding to respond to the needs; the nature and limits of the services mean that some newcomers' needs cannot be met, and organizations often lack the resources to ensure that the services provided are of the quality that newcomers and Canada deserve.

The Canadian Council for Refugees therefore urges that:

1. The level of investment in settlement services be raised with a view to achieving a level comparable to other support services.

2. The settlement service programs be reviewed, in consultation with service providers, other experts and stakeholders, with a view to achieving a better definition of settlement services to meet needs of newcomers.

3. Eligibility for settlement services be broadened to include all those in need of these services, including immigrants and refugees who have been more than three years in Canada and refugee claimants.

4. The investment in language instruction for newcomers be increased to ensure they have access to sufficient training to enable them to participate fully in Canadian society.

5. Governments commit to national standards for settlement services and provide the support and resources to enable those standards to be maintained, including through provision of adequate training to settlement workers.

6. Working conditions in the settlement sector be brought up to the same levels as in other social service sectors.

The geographic distribution of immigrants and proposals to encourage newcomers to settle more widely
The CCR is supportive of measures that enable more communities in Canada to benefit from immigration.  It is important, however, that any such measures be preceded by meaningful consultation with stakeholders and that before newcomers are encouraged to settle in smaller communities, the government ensures that they have in place the supports necessary to welcome new immigrants.   In order to avoid undue hardship for new immigrants and the host communities, it is essential that there be adequate access to settlement, economic and social services.

The CCR is opposed to any extension of the program which uses temporary permits as a pre-condition to obtaining the right to apply for permanent residence status at the end of a specified time period.  The use of temporary work permits with geographical limitations to attract potential immigrants and their families to Canada is cruel and damaging, if, for some reason beyond their reasonable control, permanent residence is not eventually granted.  We are also concerned that restricting mobility within Canada is a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and will create two classes of residents.

Problems of public perception; i.e. combatting discrimination
Despite official policies favouring diversity and laws outlawing discrimination, racism and xenophobia continue to have wide-ranging impacts on newcomers in Canada.  The impacts include the pain and alienation caused by racist comments and the barriers to full participation created by systemic racism.

Newcomers are also exposed to xenophobic prejudices which are given public expression where racist comments would presumably not be tolerated.  Refugees in particular are targetted for abuse, labelled as fraudsters, criminals and, most recently, terrorists.

We underline that the need to address racism and xenophobia has become significantly more acute since September 11.  A totally ungrounded linkage has been made between refugees and terrorism, gaining the status of an urban myth.  We regret that the federal government has not systematically challenged this myth.

The Canadian Council for Refugees believes that the federal government needs to give a higher priority to combatting systemic racism.  This would include an obligation on the part of all departments and sectors to consider the needs of, and barriers faced by, newcomers.

The CCR also urges the federal government to invest in public education about refugees and immigrants, with a view to making Canadians aware of the need for effective refugee protection and of the benefits of immigration.

Given the impact of public statements by politicians, whether in government or in opposition, the CCR urges all Members of Parliament to show leadership by combatting racism and xenophobia in their public discourse.

Immigrant health issues, including public health concerns and refugee mental health issues
Mental health issues faced by refugees and immigrants were addressed in the report "After the Door Has Been Opened" (Report of the Canadian Task Force on Mental Health Issues Affecting Immigrants and Refugees, 1988).  Unfortunately there has been no documented implementation or follow-up on the recommendations.  Concerned that these serious issues are not getting the attention that they deserve, the CCR has recommended creation of a joint task group made up of NGO and government representatives to investigate the outcome of the report's recommendations with an intent to re-evaluate the current status of mental health programming for refugees and immigrants and to develop a national implementation strategy

In the short-term, we urge that CIC ensure that resources are provided to the Interim Federal Health Program to provide for both short and long-term mental health services.

Access to services
One of the particular challenges facing newcomers to Canada, and in consequence also facing providers of settlement services is access to services.  Many services in Canada, including settlement services themselves, are restricted to those eligible based on status in Canada.  As a result, many immigrants in need of services too often find themselves barred, either because the rules make them ineligible or because they cannot prove that they are eligible.  This problem is likely to become only more acute with the expansion in numbers of temporary workers.  The CCR believes that services should be made available based on need, not status.  Other barriers needing to be addressed include language and cultural barriers.  The Canadian Council for Refugees has identified improving access to services as one of the key challenges facing the refugee and immigrant sector today.