Newcomers to B.C.: towards a better integration

The Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies (AMSSA) has released an immigration strategy plan outlining a series of recommendations for the provincial, in contrast to the federal, government.

With immigration policy largely falling under federal jurisdiction by default, the recommendations are directed at the provincial government with the hopes of leading to a more British Columbia-focussed immigration plan.

Creating a comprehensive plan

Ryan Drew is the Director of Integrated Services for Newcomers at S.U.C.C.E.S.S. – one of the member organizations of AMSSA’s Immigrant Integration Coordinating Committee that helped to fund and put together the strategy plan. In discussing the goals behind the report, Drew explains that B.C.’s current policies around immigration are largely informed by federal policy and recommendations and that the provincial approach to immigration could be improved by this idea of implementing policies more tailored towards a British Columbian context.

“Currently, the immigration strategy is being driven by the federal government [who] have come out with a multi-year plan for immigration and settlement. But really what we’re trying to get out here is that the province itself needs to have its own strategy and its own plan,” says Drew.

Drew says the plan itself is made up of twelve general recommendations, such as allowing access to free education regardless of immigration status and a creating-public-awareness campaign about the benefits of immigration.

The creation of a B.C.-specific immigration strategy represents the first of four key calls to action outlined in the plan.

“It’s not a simple solution. It’s a complex animal, so to speak,” says Drew. “So it needs to be addressed on many different fronts so that it is successful.”

A provincial Ministry of Immigration and Multiculturalism

The second major recommendation in the plan is more specific: to reinstate a provincial Ministry of Immigration and Multiculturalism. Drew says that since 2014 immigration programming in B.C. has been divided up among various provincial ministries.

While there exists a dedicated federal Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Drew says the closest equivalent on a provincial level in B.C. is the Ministry of Jobs, Trade and Technology, which is responsible for immigration policy and integration.

But the report details how other immigrant needs – the protection of temporary foreign workers or the implementation of English Language Learning programs – fall under other ministries, such as Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, among others.

“There isn’t one person in charge or being held responsible to make sure that programming is happening, to make sure that the needs of the sector are heard,” says Drew. “Right now, it seems a bit spread out, and we felt that it’s a much more effective approach to be all housed in one place, so that [the relevant bodies] can strategically work together to make sure that the programming is appropriate and significant for the needs of the individuals in the province.”

Attraction and retention strategy

The third main policy recommendation is about informing people that opportunities beyond Metro Vancouver exist. Drew explains that while the funding of immigration and integration bodies throughout the province is a strong suit for the B.C., actually getting the word out about opportunities beyond Vancouver is something to work on.

AMSSA’s immigration strategy plan. | Photo courtesy of AMSSA

“Maybe we are attracting people to Vancouver, but how do we attract them to other parts of the province, even let them know that there are options outside of Metro Vancouver?” says Drew.

Additionally, while Canada continues to compete on a global scale to attract immigration, Drew says secondary migration in Canada – migration within a province or country – needs to be addressed in order to create a smooth immigration transition process.

“[People] will land in other parts of Canada and then decide to move here. Which is great; that’s an attraction piece, but then we see a lot of people deciding to move out of the province because of cost, because they aren’t necessarily able to settle as easily as they thought they would in the local economy,” says Drew. “So it’s really taking a look at how we get the word out that B.C. is an entire province, not just Metro Vancouver.”

Workforce development strategy for newcomers

The last key recommendation is perhaps one of the most talked-about aspects of immigration and labour: skill transferability. It’s often complained that despite Canada being able to attract high-skilled labour, people often cannot transfer their skills to a Canadian context.

But for Drew, much of the issue around transferability of skills isn’t just in training newcomers to the province, but also in communicating with employers and businesses to realize the potential of skilled workers.

“It’s taking a better approach to not only training newcomers to work in our labour market here, but also really working with employers and helping train them and their HR people to help make that bridge in a really intentional way,” says Drew.

Looking forward

A statement from Bruce Ralston, the provincial Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology, states that there aren’t currently any plans to reinstate a Ministry of Immigration and Multiculturalism. However, Ralston points out that immigration continues to be a priority for the B.C. Government, as the province values new perspectives, talent and experience that help to grow our labour force and economy.

“To help ensure that newcomers receive the resources they need to thrive, we have increased our investment in settlement support to $12 million this year, an increase of 60% and the highest level since 2014. This investment will be used to provide better access to programs like employment counselling, language training and improved credential assessments,” says Ralston.

Drew says that the provincial government has been taking the strategy plan into consideration, and is hopeful that they will implement some of the report’s recommendation into policies.

“It is government, so that takes time. But I think [it’s] a real opening to having conversations and moving everything and everyone forward,” Drew says.

Drew says the strategy plan represents a step towards in creating a mutually beneficial relationship between the province and newcomers.

“Having newcomers in our communities helps strengthen them, helps to enrich them to where we have very strong and vibrant communities. So the takeaway is that, yes, we need to welcome newcomers here, but at the same time, we need to have some really great supports for them to facilitate that piece. And it’s not just on them, it’s on us as well,” he says.