Where Do You Come From, Where Do You Go?
You & Me BC
December 5th, 2021
BC's long been one of Canada's leading destinations for newcomers, but settlement patterns are changing and communities are being transformed in the process. While these changes are mostly helpful to newcomers, many challenges still face them in their new country.
Where do you Come From, Where do you Go?
BC's one of Canada’s leading destinations for newcomers, with a well earned reputation for its rich mix of cultures and customs.
The main sources of immigration to BC have remained historically consistent, with most newcomers from China, India, Iran, and the Philippines, as well as South Korea and Vietnam.
But while immigration sources have largely held steady, there’s been a shift in where newcomers are settling within BC, and it's transformed communities throughout the province.
Metro Vancouver's been the traditional place of settlement, with Vancouver and Surrey being the province's main destinations for newcomers. But while Metro Vancouver is still the primary landing area, where new arrivals to Canada end up is increasingly widespread.
The cost of housing in Metro Vancouver has led to the proliferation of newcomer communities in the Fraser Valley, Chilliwack, and Mission, while the Okanagan is the destination for many migrants working in seasonal agriculture.
The result? A diversification of BC's towns and smaller cities throughout the province.
DID YOU KNOW: 21 percent of Canada's population are immigrants. The country with the highest proportion of immigrants is the United Arab Emirates, at 88 percent
This move away from large urban areas is a good thing, says Katie Crocker, executive director of the Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies of BC, an umbrella organization for groups working with immigrants and refugees.
“Newcomers have a greater sense of belonging in smaller communities. In a big city, people get lost in the shuffle and things tend to be so anonymous and impersonal, but in smaller areas each person has a larger spot at the table."
For newcomers like Hadi, this rings true. Originally from Iran, he spent several months in Vancouver before settling in the Okanagan 4 years ago with his family, looking to build a stable life in Canada for his wife and 3 young children.
He's found it in Summerland, which he's called home since 2017, working as a painter and part-time delivery driver.
"I expected to be living in a big city and when we moved to Summerland I was nervous. I thought a smaller place would have a tighter bond, but one that would be harder to get accepted into."
"But people went out of their way to help us. They came right up and asked how they could help. No one in Vancouver would stop to talk or smile. They'd swarm past me like ants."
No one in Vancouver would stop to talk or smile. They'd swarm past me like ants
It's a common sentiment from newcomers who have settled outside major urban areas, and Hadi's hardly alone in preferring small town life.
But to paint BC's newcomer experiences as all positive would be misleading: things are still far from perfect for the province's newcomers, and for many adapting to life in Canada's a long-term struggle.
The Illusion of Inclusion
In several respects, the challenges faced by British Columbia’s newcomers mirror those faced by virtually all Canadians: housing and employment are two at the top of the list for example.
However, for newcomers there's an added layer of barriers. Language is the most consistent of these, Crocker believes, and not far behind are administrative hoops which slow their entry into the job market.
Newcomers often run into challenges having their credentials recognized, which leads to many working jobs below their skill level, and also face greater restrictions on where they can work.
The first years are therefore the toughest as newcomers build their language skills, social capitol, and resources, all while working their way through stifling red tape.
Although the unemployment rates of immigrants and non-immigrants are similar, 10.4 percent and 9.1 percent respectively, newcomers with 5 years or under in Canada have an unemployment rate of 13.5 percent.
Studies also show that newcomers usually take a decade before developing a full sense of belonging to their new country. And for some it never comes.
For Hadi, it's a work in progress.
"As good as things are here, I still think of myself as someone living in a nice place away from home, rather than having found a new home. The sounds, the smells, seeing grandparents, cousins, uncles. It's not bad here, it's just not the same."
"I feel I'm becoming more Canadian but deep down I'll always be an Iranian at heart. My kids are young and will grow up in this land, so it'll be different for them."
A job fair for newcomers to Canada
Although there are a range of programs and services to help newcomers develop their skills and navigate the red tape, Crocker’s quick to point out that a bigger challenge is making communities more welcoming places.
“Newcomers can settle in a community, but we also want those communities to embrace people who might have different customs, traditions, clothing, food, and all the nuances newcomers bring with them. There can’t just be an illusion of inclusion.”
“Being included means participating in society, being part of community events, engaging with their children’s school, and being encouraged and supported in this by the broader community. They've got your back and want you there. “
Crocker believes that policies and practices at all levels are still failing to do this, making racialized newcomers especially hesitant to engage public services, such as health care and law enforcement.
DID YOU KNOW: India's the world's biggest source of immigration, with 17.5 million Indians living abroad. Mexico is 2nd, with 11.8 million living abroad.
She also says the government's attitude towards settlement is problematic. Newcomers in the humanitarian stream, composed of those subject to persecution or discrimination in their home country, tend to do very well in Canada and make great contributions to their communities.
But instead of being viewed as assets for the country, these newcomers are seen as obligations and are passively tolerated, instead of being given the support they need to reach their full potential in their new homes.
This lack of support extends to mental and physical health support. Newcomers typically experience a decline in physical and mental health shortly after arriving in Canada, and if left untreated these issues become hardened, more resistant to therapy, and make all elements of settlement more challenging.
But mental health services are often tied citizenship or permanent resident status, limiting access for recent newcomers and temporary workers - just as they need them most.
Events from 7000 miles away will be testing our capacity to help newcomers settle and find belonging in BC.
With the crisis in Afghanistan, the Canadian government has committed to welcoming 40,000 Afghans by 2023. Some families are already arriving and Crocker says the sector's ready for the influx, but the situation presents unique challenges.
“Housing will be a greater challenge with the Afghan newcomers because they tend to live in much larger family units than most."
“We also learned from the Syrian experience that there’s a lot of trauma from people who’ve left in such a horrific fashion and so abruptly. The transition won't be easy and there needs to be mental health support and community support, but with time they’ll settle into their new communities.”
While Crocker is optimistic, critics have pointed out that the federal government provides other provinces with 10 times more funding to settle newcomers than BC receives, resulting in a drastic shortfall to support our newcomers.
How the situations plays out remains to be seen, but one factor she thinks is sure to impact how well BC settles our newcomers is attitude: a province-wide commitment to inclusion remains the foundation of creating communities in which newcomers can thrive.
"The more we can bring to life the importance of inclusion, whether we're talking about newcomers, women, trans, or persons with disabilities, the better the outcomes will be."
"We need to show that there's a seat at the table for everyone."
To get in touch with Spencer van Vloten, editor of You & Me BC, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org