Immigrants in Rural Western Canada: An Overview of Services and Settlement (Part 1)

Service providers in rural western Canada work hard to meet the needs of newcomers arriving in their communities, but settlement services are neither as available nor as accessible as they need to be. This is a key finding of a report recently released by the Rural Development Institute of Brandon University.

Outdoor Portrait Of Multi-Ethnic Crowd Entitled “Immigration Settlement Services and Gaps in Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Western Region,” and funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) through Immigration Research West (IRW), this research sought to increase understanding of about smaller settlement centres in Western Canada. It focused on 29 rural communities and smaller urban centres across the four western provinces — British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

This two-part blog post highlights some of the findings of this report and shows some parallels to as well as differences from rural communities in Ontario. Part 1 presents some highlights of the study.

The summary report, full regional report, provincial reports, and community reports can all be accessed from this page on the Rural Development Institute website.

How many immigrants settle in smaller communities, and why?

The report looks at the percentage of permanent residents who live outside the big cities in the four provinces for the period 2004-2013.

Saskatchewan has the highest levels during this period: at least 20% of immigrants to that province settled in rural areas. In some years, it was more than 30%. British Columbia has the lower percentage, rising from 9% to 15% during the same period.

The report does not indicate why this is the case, but the answer at least partially lies in the strong Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) run by the Province of Saskatchewan. PNP connects prospective immigrants to jobs, and thus large employers in small communities have a strong magnet to attract new immigrants.

“During the period 2004 to 2013, the number of permanent residents who arrived as nominees under this program increased approximately thirtyfold in Saskatchewan!

(See Section 3.0 of the Saskatchewan Provincial Report in this series.) Many of these individuals went to communities outside of Regina and Saskatoon. Nominee programs also account for the high immigrant concentration in communities such as Steinbach, MB and Brooks, AB.

Utilization of settlement services

Most immigrants to rural and smaller communities in Western Canada never access settlement services.

The above report cites other research by Immigration Research West (IRW) which found that less than one-third of newcomers in rural areas across the four western provinces accessed services. Utilization rates vary across the provinces and were highest in Manitoba, at 39.7%.

This figure is congruent with findings from the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada (LSIC) data on immigrants to Canada overall. According to LSIC data, most immigrants never access settlement services. In some cases, they do not think they need services. In other cases, they do not know about services or how to access them.

Multi-ethnic Group Of StudentsRigid eligibility requirements can also reduce access to services: CIC-funded services are targeted as permanent residents only, not temporary residents, refugee claimants, or naturalized citizens. These requirements work against some populations, for example, women who may not have time to access language classes when their children are young. When they have the time, often after their children have entered school, they may have become Canadian citizens thereby losing their eligibility to access free language classes.

Rural Uniqueness

Some challenges facing immigrants surface no matter where they settle in Canada. These include:

  • challenges of foreign credential recognition,
  • language and racial discrimination, and
  • lack of social connections, services and resources, including childcare, affordable housing, and public transportation.

However, the report identifies some challenges that are unique to the rural communities examined. These include geographic challenges such as dispersed newcomer populations and the difficulty of maintaining communities over large distances, particularly in the absence of public transit and harsh weather conditions. Challenges may also arise due to unfamiliar encounters, that is, the influx of ethno-racial newcomers to traditionally homogeneous communities. A third set of challenges relates to small service agencies that must address multiple needs with limited programming and resources.

In this study, some of those interviewed found that newcomer settlement was EASIER in smaller communities. It was cited as easier for several reasons:

  • easier to find out about services,
  • easier if there is an existing and supportive ethno-cultural community present,
  • easier to find general community support, and also
  • due to the presence of settlement incentive packages in some communities. (Unfortunately, the latter are not defined.)

In the next blog post, I will present some of the overall findings of the reports and identify implications for communities in Ontario.

Sarah V Wayland

Sarah Wayland, Principal Investigator

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