Canada recently announced plans to bring an unlimited number of Ukrainians to Canada on a three-year visa with the right to work while they are here. It’s an exciting and new plan for humanitarian migration. It also raises an important question. How do we deliver on the promise we make when we offer people resettlement in Canada?
Opportunities for resettlement are important. So, too, are refugees’ experiences once they arrive. Immigrant success has a ripple effect, impacting quality of life, health, and economic well-being. The treatment newcomers receive in the early months in Canada will shape their future for years to come. Immigrant success boosts the prospects for their children and grandchildren to do well in Canada as well as affects their neighbours, their employers, and their communities. We all benefit when immigrants have an opportunity to flourish.
“Questions about ensuring newcomers benefit from immigration are not new. Many of the challenges that Ukrainians may face are the same challenges previous generations of immigrants and refugees have faced.”
To set up Ukrainians and other immigrants up for success in Canada, we need smart policy innovation and change in four major areas: information about places to settle, access to settlement services, credential recognition, and transition to permanent residence.
Starting Off in the Right Community
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to selecting a destination community. People come to Canada with different occupations and personal preferences. Large urban areas offer a greater number of employment opportunities and support services, but a higher cost of living. In certain occupations, there are better opportunities in smaller communities.1 Yet many newcomers have only heard of major urban areas. They often arrive at an international airport in a major urban area. Some existing programs help match immigrants in Canada with smaller communities. But when people have advance notice that they will be moving to Canada, they should have a chance to explore Canada’s communities virtually to find out:
- Where will their skills be in demand?
- If it is important for them to live near people from the same religious or ethnic background, where would those areas be?
- How does cost of living, including housing costs, differ across communities?
- What recreational opportunities, festivals, and creative endeavours are available?
The Canadian government should work with communities to build community profiles and a matching questionnaire. Links to these resources can be given to newcomers to consider as they prepare to move to Canada.
Nimble and Responsive Settlement Services
Settlement services are key to providing newcomers with information and support. They also ease the transition as people adjust to life in a new country. Refugees are more likely to use settlement services than economic immigrants,2 and the same may be true of Ukrainians. But their needs for settlement services may be unique. They may have a higher need for language training, including vocational language training. Their settlement patterns may not match previous cohorts of immigrants.
Delivering successful settlement services for Ukrainians requires nimble settlement policy. IRCC funding for the settlement program has been slow to respond to evolving immigration policies and settlement patterns.3 IRCC needs to ensure that the types of settlement services most needed by Ukrainians are available in the areas where Ukrainians settle. Ukrainians will also need clear information about what services they are eligible for and where they can go to seek them.
Recognizing Qualifications among Newcomers
As Ukrainian newcomers prepare to enter the workforce, many may face difficulties with having their skills and education recognized by employers and professional regulators. This has been a persistent challenge in Canada’s immigration and settlement system.4 Because people fleeing war often can’t bring all their documentation, the situation may be particularly acute for Ukrainians.5 Failing to recognize credentials leads to underemployment, financial hardship, and low satisfaction among newcomers with their professional lives. The opportunity cost is high, and it undermines the intention of a humanitarian immigration program.
Addressing credential recognition needs a multi-pronged approach. Employers need more resources to learn how to assess immigrant skills. A common barrier to commensurate employment has been a requirement for Canadian work experience, which undervalues professional experience gained outside Canada and has been determined to be discriminatory.6 Support to build inclusive workplaces will help employers retain and promote newcomers. To address employment barriers in regulated professions, the federal government should partner with provincial governments to identify regulated professions that are most affected to streamline the credentialing process.
Reform will make access to the Canadian labour market more equitable, which ultimately benefits humanitarian and economic immigrants, as well as employers.
Transparent Pathways to Permanent Residence Ease Challenges
The current measures for Ukrainians are largely envisaged as a temporary program. But inevitably, there will be Ukrainians who feel that returning is not in the best interest of their family. Questions about future opportunities for permanent residence often weigh heavily on temporary migrants.7 The stress interferes with settlement, working against the goals of settlement service provision. Given the investment Canadians and Ukrainians have made in each other, it would be a loss for both if they cannot become permanent residents and, ultimately, citizens.
Currently, the pathway to permanent residence is unclear. Some will be able to apply under enhanced access to family sponsorship. Others may not meet the criteria for existing immigration programs. The recent temporary measures to transition temporary workers to permanent residence highlight the challenge of opening new immigration streams with little notice.8 Applying the lessons from this temporary measure, the Canadian government should provide more information sooner and have fewer restrictions.
To improve the user experience with the immigration system, the government should:
- Create a clear and simple pathway to permanent residence, requiring as little documentation from Ukraine as possible
- Announce the details of this pathway to permanent residence for Ukrainians soon, ideally later this year
- Keep the pathway to permanent residence open for a long period of time
Clarity about the pathway to permanent residence will allow people to focus their resources on settling well, rather than worrying about their future stay in Canada.
Canada benefits the most from immigration when immigrants have a chance to do well. An investment now in policies to resettle Ukrainian citizens will quickly pay off.