B.C. fails immigrant report card

March 24, 2005, vol. 32, no. 6
By Marianne Meadahl

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A report card on immigrant languages and settlement services across Canada gives B.C. a failing grade and suggests that the province's immigration language system is in crisis.

The report card's findings should be seen as a starting point in the bid to enhance immigrant and refugee settlement and integration, says SFU associate geography professor Jennifer Hyndman, who led the study.

B.C. registered the lowest mark of all provinces - 35 per cent - in the area of immigrant language services, as part of a comparison of services available to immigrants across the country. Comparatively, Manitoba and Newfoundland received scores above 70 per cent in the category.

The report card points out that the department of citizenship and immigration Canada's (CIC) current investment in immigration has not changed since 1996, despite increasing numbers of immigrants annually, a situation that risks failing to adequately support immigrants in their settlement process.

A more controversial finding is that B.C. passes along fewer federal dollars for immigrant English language training than any other province.

The findings compare CIC dollars per immigrant spent in each province, in 2002 and 2004. Categories and score allocations were created for the earlier report card by members of the B.C. coalition for immigrant integration, with participation by senior SFU undergraduates who conducted research for the project.

Hyndman notes that the province spends less per capita than any other province on language instruction. In 2003, more than 35,000 immigrants landed in B.C. The province stops providing fully funded English as a second language classes after students have achieved basic (level three) English language skills, despite the fact that immigrants pre-pay for these services before their arrival, paying a $975 right of landing fee.

Hyndman, who has just returned from a research and volunteer stint in Sri Lanka, undertook the assessment as part of her ongoing commitment to providing academic expertise to local community groups.

Chris Friesen, an expert in the immigrant and refugee-serving sector and a contributor to the report, says waiting periods for immigrants for ESL classes can be up to six months, following another three-month wait for an initial skills assessment.

Hyndman says the study, funded through a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada simply “describes what is going on across the country in terms of the delivery of official language and settlement services.

“We have described what is, and who is providing how much in terms of language and settlement services for new immigrants,” she notes. “The research raises policy implications for both government and non-government organisations.”

For more information check the following websites: www.immigrantsandrefugees.ca and www.gis.sfu.ca/CURA.

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