Settlement providers call on IRCC to extend services to temporary residents
IRCC runs the Settlement Program and Resettlement Assistance program to help newcomers adapt to their new life in Canada. The department partners with organizations throughout Canada to ensure newcomers get the assistance they require.
IRCC is responsible for funding many of these programs. The Call for Proposals (CFP) helps IRCC establish settlement and resettlement programs that will have the most significant impact on newcomers. The programs deemed the most impactful are the most likely to be allocated funding. The purpose of the consultations was for IRCC to obtain feedback from the settlement sector on changes being considered for CFP 2024.
Canada’s government spends some $2 billion CAD a year on settlement services (including the separate settlement grant which is provided to Quebec). IRCC consults service provider organizations (SPOs) and some non-IRCC funded organizations and officials from provincial and territorial governments to understand how to provide support.
Settlement program services include providing newcomers with information and referrals, language training and help finding employment and housing. This is significant as Canada is set to welcome 500,000 new permanent residents per year by the end of 2025, although this number could change somewhat in the upcoming Immigration Levels Plan 2024-2026 which will be announced by November 1st
This year, 1,187 individuals participated in the consultations. Participants were asked to help identify and provide feedback on departmental priorities, what is working well in the settlement and resettlement sectors, and where there are opportunities for improvement.
The findings were compiled through seven different webinars. In addition to general feedback, IRCC was seeking input on priority areas for CFP 2024. These included:
- Right Services
- Right Clients;
- Right Time;
- Innovation/Outcomes; and
- Francophone Integration Pathway
Main areas for improvement
Participants said there is a real need to expand eligibility of settlement services to temporary residents seeking permanent residency. This includes international students and temporary foreign workers.
As it stands, most (although not all) IRCC-funded settlement services are geared toward permanent residents, their spouses and dependents, and approved asylum claimants.
The most recent population data from Statistics Canada shows that there are nearly 2.2 million temporary residents in Canada.
Canada’s Immigration Minister Marc Miller has estimated that there will be 900,000 international students in Canada by the end of 2023 and that 1.4 million people are living in Canada on a work permit.
It was suggested expanding services to temporary residents would be possible given the government’s willingness to support Ukrainian temporary residents who arrived in Canada through the Canada Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program. This support is also available to temporary residents who participate in the Atlantic Immigration Program (AIP), which is a unique economic immigration program in Atlantic Canada.
The report also noted that in every webinar, participants mentioned difficulties in attracting and retaining qualified staff. They said improved access to mental health support could be beneficial, both for staff and clients. This would include additional training for staff to recognize when newcomers are having mental health challenges, especially among refugees, so they could be referred for further assessment.
For example, participants spoke of the need for a centralized process to make sure all newcomers are aware of the settlement services available to them, starting from the pre-arrival stage of their immigration journey. Some also mentioned that assessment should be ongoing rather than just at the intake phase.
Further, participants recommended that IRCC allow more flexibility in how funding is administered so SPOs can better adapt to client needs. The flexibility would allow providers to adapt to urgent, short-term needs instead of waiting for the next five-year funding cycle to begin.
Reporting requirements burdensome for SPOs
The report also notes that participants believe that reporting (to IRCC) is overly focused on quantitative metrics when it should be measuring client impact and successes.
Participants suggested that there is too much reporting on quantitative metrics instead of client impact and successes. They say there are positive benefits to indirect services, which they suggested are not captured in iCARE (a platform designed to support the delivery of settlement services, and the measurement of service activities and outcomes).
Smaller SPOs do not always have a dedicated human resources department that can devote the necessary time to data collection and reporting. Participants would like to see a more dynamic and flexible database to download and manipulate client data.
The report concludes by explaining that different regions in Canada have diverse needs to provide support for newcomers.
For example, in Atlantic Canada, there are almost no public transportation options outside of the main cities and newcomers rely on volunteers to help them meet their basic needs such as buying essentials or finding a place to live. IRCC does not allow SPO funding to be used to reimburse volunteers for transportation costs.
Ontario SPOs call for more collaboration across organizations including an increase in referrals between service providers. This is in addition to more flexible, limited-time funding to respond to crises while managing normal operations.
IRCC does have a dedicated tool to help newcomers find services near them but the prairie provinces (Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan), as well as the Northwest Territories, would like to see an app created that will help clients more easily locate settlement services and make referrals easier.
Areas of strength
In addition to the recommendations, the report highlights where IRCC has been successful in supporting SPOs.
Participants mentioned an elevated level of collaboration between organizations and governments, including provincial and territorial governments, and that many services were readily available in single locations outside of business hours.
They also said there were successes in offering specialized, culturally sensitive services such as mental health with interpretation support for refugees and a “by and for” approach to service delivery to Francophone newcomers.