Newcomers to wait longer for English classes, B.C. settlement groups warn

posted on March 7, 2016

By Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun |

New immigrants will wait longer for English classes as Ottawa prepares to cut funding for language training in B.C., settlement agencies warn.

By Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun |

New immigrants will wait longer for English classes as Ottawa prepares to cut funding for language training in B.C., settlement agencies warn.

Waiting times already average about six months once an individual has been assessed, but in some cases can be upwards of a year, said representatives of MOSAIC and the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. (ISSofBC).

Being unable to communicate in English makes it hard for immigrants to function in their new country and, crucially, find work, said Joan Andersen, director of employment and language programs with MOSAIC.

“The No. 1 concern that employers have with hiring people who are new to Canada is whether or not they have the English skills to function up to their potential in the workplace,” she said. “And so the longer you delay picking up English, the longer you’ll be unemployed or the longer you’ll be stuck in a really precarious, low-paying, unstable work situation.”

The precise amount of the cuts has not yet been finalized, she added.

In an emailed statement, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokeswoman Jessica Séguin said funding allocations for each province and territory is based on the share of immigrants it receives, and B.C.’s numbers have dropped.

“When the number of immigrants destined to a province decreases, such as the case in B.C., so does the funding dedicated to their integration. As we extend current agreements by one additional year, adjustments will be made to some service provider agreements in response to changing client volume and needs,” she said.

She added that “the government is committed to ensuring that … immigrants have access to the same level of services regardless of where they choose to settle.”

Organizations that serve a high volume of refugee clients will be eligible for additional funding to meet increasing demand, the statement said.

For MOSAIC, which offers the federally funded Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) classes in Vancouver, Burnaby and the North Shore, it is the latter where waits are longest, Andersen said. While MOSAIC did receive some additional refugee-specific funding for classes on the North Shore, the coming cuts are roughly equal to the additional funding.

About 700 people are on the waiting list on the North Shore, and the waits are longest for those who need child care in order to attend the classes, she said. Sometimes this means women, who are often the children’s primary caregivers, are not able to take the classes and become increasingly isolated as a result, Anderson added.

“It’s really not a good situation. We not only need more capacity in terms of classrooms, we need more capacity for child care.”

For ISSofBC, the longest waits — six months to a year — are in the Tri-Cities, New Westminster and Richmond, said Diana Smolic, manager of the society’s LINC program. As with MOSAIC, the waits for those who need child care are even longer.

“With the upcoming funding year we are expecting longer wait-lists,” Smolic said in an email. “For some of our sites, such as Vancouver and Richmond, we expect wait-lists to increase considerably given that we will be reducing the number of classes we will be offering.”

Across the river in Surrey, where most of B.C.’s Syrian refugees have settled, settlement services agency SUCCESS has roughly 1,000 people on the waiting list for language classes, said CEO Queenie Choo. More than 60 per cent of these refugees are women and children, so childminding — which SUCCESS offers in Surrey — is essential, Choo said.

Regarding federal funding levels for the next fiscal year, “we’re hoping there will be further discussions on this,” she said.

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