After 40 years, Immigrant Settlement Program needs an overhaul

posted on April 21, 2014

By Robert Vineberg, Globe and Mail | Link to Article

By Robert Vineberg, Globe and Mail | Link to Article

Robert Vineberg is a Senior Fellow at the Canada West Foundation. He was formerly Director General of Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Prairies and Northern Territories Region. He is also the author of the book Responding to Immigrants’ Settlement Needs: The Canadian Response.

Would-be immigrants to Canada continue to face a series of bureaucratic impediments that either delay their status or reduce the effectiveness of integration once they arrive here. Fixing these problems is long overdue.

Last November, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander met with more than 400 people in Ottawa, mostly representatives of non-governmental organizations. These Service Provider Organizations contract with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to deliver settlement services to immigrants. He told them, “You tell us what we need to get it right.”

In this spirit, there are several significant weaknesses in the system that need to be addressed.

CIC must provide services to persons who are in transition from temporary to permanent status. Once these applicants receive approval in principle, only a tiny number of them are later refused. So let’s treat them appropriately and give them early access to settlement services.

The same should apply to refugee claimants as soon as they are recognized as refugees by the Immigration and Refugee Board. They should not have to wait until their permanent residence papers come through several months later.

Would-be immigrants used to have to apply for immigration status from outside Canada, which often meant they would have to leave the country to do so – wasting both time and money. Now, two immigration categories, “provincial nominees” and the “Canadian experience class,” allow temporary foreign workers and foreign graduates of Canadian post-secondary institutions to apply for permanent residence while remaining in Canada.

Despite these changes, the settlement program does not fund services for these people and their families until they complete the immigration process.

As a result, applicants can wait months, or even years, for the services that will help them to integrate into the work force and Canadian society. On this matter, the research is clear: Early intervention by settlement service providers makes integration easier.