Assuring Newcomer Success: Challenges and Opportunities – Q&A with Dr. Valerie PrestonJanuary 11, 2018
Dr. Valerie Preston, Professor, Department of Geography, York University and Principal Investigator, Migration and Resilience in Urban Canada delivered the keynote speech at the 4th Biennial Ottawa Immigration Forum on November 20, 2017. This Q&A expands on some of the key themes and content of this keynote speech.
1. What are some of the key challenges faced by newcomers to Canada?
The challenges are really the same as always, but I’ll highlight three goals that can present challenges. Newcomers are challenged to find employment that is commensurate with their experience, so that they can support their families.
Newcomers are generally seeking some level of social engagement, but we need to avoid being prescriptive about what type of social engagement works best for them. For instance, some research in the Somali community in Ottawa, has shown that many of these newcomers are content to — at least for the short-term — concentrate on social interaction with their own community. We tend to be highly prescriptive about wanting interaction with newcomers with long-term Canadians, but this approach isn’t always the best option.
We want newcomers to participate in the community and have some sense of efficacy.
We now realize that settlement is a very complicated process and that setting targets for these three goals is unrealistic. We need to be sensitive to the very complicated process and variables as well. It’s unfair to be overly prescriptive towards newcomers and the settlement agencies that can be given the responsibility for helping newcomers to achieve these goals.
Although the challenges for newcomers have remained much the same, our understanding of the variability of options for achieving those goals has changed.
2. What are some of the key opportunities to ensuring newcomer success?
We have to look at what works, by talking to newcomers who have been here awhile, the settlement service sector and newcomer communities.
We know that bridging and training programs, along with mentoring, can work. These types of programs need to be universally available to all newcomers. They should be made offered on a more flexible timetable. For instance, once an immigrant becomes a citizen, they don’t quality for these types of programs. We have seen situations where for instance middle aged immigrant women could still benefit from these programs, but they no longer qualify. Often in the beginning, they were too busy bringing up their children and working to take advantage of settlement services such as language training.
We used to think if we had the right human capital it was certain to work, but it’s not a guarantee.
When we look at the experience of privately sponsored Syrians, many who had part-time, “survival jobs”, we don’t know if this work experience will pay off in the long-term. These jobs have at least helped people to feel like they are moving towards their goals.
We really need to look at every opportunity we have for attachment to the labour market, as this can have positive effects. I am by no means promoting survival jobs, but there are cases where perhaps for the well-supported newcomers, these jobs have been beneficial. There are subtle differences, and we still must be careful that people aren’t stuck in “bad jobs”, and that they can ultimately succeed through the initial attachment and then through bridging support.
3. What are some of the emerging trends that you have seen in international migration and resilience?
We have seen increasingly mixed flows, with migrants moving for complicated reasons. Some are displaced because of conflict, but others are simply seeking better economic opportunities.
Immigration policies are cut and dry. When you look at the influx of Haitians who came through irregular border crossings last summer, you see a new reality. Many of those Haitians came to the US because of physical threats or the 2010 earthquake. They are part of a larger group of people with temporary status from several countries, who are currently residing in the United States, and for whom the US administration seems to be considering ending their temporary status.
While some of the conditions that caused them to flee Haiti still prevail and things aren’t entirely resolved, but yet they are still at risk of being deported.
This issue of mixed flows and complicated reasons for migration is growing. It’s become increasingly difficult for States to manage these migrations, as was the case in Europe in 2016 and here in Canada in 2017.
Public support for immigration is linked with the ability to control a country’s borders. We need to look at the relationship between being able to control who comes across our border and the public support for immigration. Many argue that this is why public support is his highest in Canada, because we don’t generally see mass migrations across our borders. But the reality is that we need other, stronger, arguments in support of immigration.
Policymakers and researchers needs to be pay attention to the fact that in terms of settlement, people’s human capital is often a good predictor of their long-term outcomes of settlement, but not necessarily a predictor of the year by year reality. Migration and resilience are increasingly linked. Resilience as defined in the UN’s literature, is not an attribute, but rather it’s a process that people can put in place the necessary resources when they need them to overcomer barriers, and this depends on the context. We should replace the term resilience with resourcefulness. In Canada, immigration should be considered in the ongoing context, not just as something arising out of shocks.
4. What is the “Resilience Approach”?
We begin by saying that migration is always about disruptions, but we are interested in how all institutions can help migrants of all types achieve their goals, through this disruptive process. Our interest is in learning how formal institutions that have traditionally been involved with immigrants can overcome the inevitable barriers, by working with the broader scope of organizations that serve newcomers (eg school boards, etc). We also need to work more closely with employers and other labour market actors. As there most likely will not be increased funding in the future, we must see what can be accomplished through the contribution of informal institutions (eg. neighbourhood groups, religious organizations, etc.).
5. Beyond building individual resiliency, how can OLIP’s partners best support positive outcome at organization and system levels?
What the literature says is that first and foremost, OLIP partners need to collaborate and strengthen their involvement with each other. If there’s a history of diverse organizations collaborating, then newcomers can deal much better with their circumstances. Each organization should try to ensure that they have the best organizational practices in place internally, in terms of hiring, promoting respective diversity in their own organizations, etc. They need this secure base to work from, in order to best be able to collaborate with each other.
6. What are the best ways for OLIP’s partners to improve system capacity to contribute successfully to the strength and resilience of migrants as they settle into new lives in Ottawa?
I am impressed with OLIP, as the partners are so diverse, and they clearly find the OLIP table collaboration worthwhile. OLIP could be expanded to include more informal organizations.
Ottawa is a different community than Toronto, where it’s really hard to get employers, other than the largest ones, to the table. OLIP has that advantage.
7. What are the most significant immigration trends in Ottawa-Gatineau?
Immigrants now comprise a quarter of the population, even more so in Ottawa than Gatineau. About half are economic immigrants, who are an important resource in the metropolitan economy and deserve attention.
A high percentage of newcomers are low income, which is somewhat of a contradiction, in that they are disproportionately low income. This is worrisome. They shouldn’t take that long to achieve earning parity. The contradiction between these two factors is concerning, especially given that it’s for a quarter of the population.
8. Are there specific ways that settlement and other service provider agencies should adapt to these local trends?
What strikes me in Ottawa, is that because almost half of immigrants come under the economic class (and are well educated and fluent in English or French), we need to put more emphasis on bridging programs. But we shouldn’t forget that the other half of immigrants still needs training programs.
Settlement agencies do amazing at job providing information to private and public sector organizations. These organizations also need to hear what newcomer and newcomer organizers say about experiencing discrimination. Settlement agencies need to acknowledge and promote anti-racism policies. They can do this well as they know how to do education and conduct difficult conversations. They have a lot of the experience, practice and involvement with other institutions.
There’s often a reluctance to talk about racism and discrimination externally. We need to enforce the good legislation that we have in Canada, but we can also play a role in raising the public awareness of newcomers’ experience of racism and racism practices that can only be addressed at a systemic level.
Settlement agencies know best what can be done, with funding restrictions which are gradually restricted. They have the stories and could put a face to racism. They are closest to the ground and are best positioned to take on some of the racism, in terms of developing the practices needed to overcome systemic racism.
Anti-racism initiatives are what really will count with this income gap.
9. What can be learned from Canada’s recent resettlement of Syrian refugees? Are there specific examples of communities that implemented innovative approaches in settling and integrating Syrian refugees?
It’s very early days to truly say, but what is clear from what we have seen already, is that settlement and other agencies are eager to innovate. There was a high degree of collaboration among funders, recipients of funding, all levels of government, and that collaboration opened up a space for new ways of doing things and for everyone to support them. The financial resources were available, along with volunteers, donations and public/private sector support.
The Syrian refugees showed us that we can make change. It’s a truly remarkable story, after four or five years of frustration with Canada’s immigration policies.
We must not forget that we can make change when these two things are present – collaboration and resources.
For example in Winnipeg, it was possible to get housing sector policies and programs expanded (such as the rent supplement program) in order to increase the supply of affordable housing. In other provinces, they agreed to suspend residents’ eligibility requirements for social housing.
There were a variety of ways stakeholders collaborated. In Ontario the Local Immigration Partnerships were crucial. In New Brunswick, they had to use other tables to collaborate and emergency management and advanced planning were crucial. But that doesn’t mean everything would work effectively in the same way across the country. We need to see which approaches are the most effective over time and allow for regional differences.
In Toronto, they relied on volunteers to provide recreational programs in hotels. This was unique and there was cooperation with the school boards. We need to look at how volunteers were used differently and effectively across the country.
We should analyze at the various forms of donations — cash, furniture, delivery services, etc. — which sometimes presented a real problem, but in other cases were crucial. There are cases where people and organizations provided their own trucks and others provided much needed storage space.
Every community did it slightly differently. In Ottawa, many of the Syrian refugees were grouped together in housing complexes. We should ask if this the best way to go? We need to look closely at the variety of practices.
10. How can collaboration between academia and community organizations be facilitated?
I am interested in vibrant and equitable collaborations, where academia and the community work together from the very beginning of a project. Caroline Andrew from University of Ottawa has worked to ensure that the interests of community organizations, settlement sectors are heard from the beginning.
Part of the reason OLIP is successful, is that it’s an equitable partnership that services everyone’s needs from the very beginning.
In my partnership, government and NGOs are involved from the very beginning of our research, even when we decide whether to apply for funding. We try to ensure that the funding goes equitably to both sides.
Our aim is to maintain that kind of involvement and to try to acknowledge different skills and capacities where the resources are and an involvement that acknowledges people’s area of expertise. When we decide what research to embark on, we try to ensure that community partners are interested and involved from the beginning which is crucial.