Social Inclusion

Immigrants’ Access to Educational Opportunities

Scope of the Issue

  • The educational profile of the Canadian working-age population has benefited greatly from the contribution made by immigrants who arrived in the 1990s. Six out ten immigrants held trade, college or university credentials in 2001 (6).
  • In spite of higher education levels, immigrants arriving since the 1990s performed poorly in the labour market and consequently, had lower income levels. (2).
  • Inadequate language proficiency is a significant barrier to employment. Four out of ten of all immigrants to Canada spoke neither English nor French in 1999 (1).
  • Education obtained before immigration has a smaller effect on earnings than education obtained after immigration (2).
  • Family class immigrants or refugees, who constitute 60% of newcomers, require assistance with necessary language, literacy and other skills required for entrance into the labour market (2).
  • Existing ESL services are limited. They are not accessible if one is a refugee claimant, or if a landed immigrant has been in Canada for more than 3 years or has citizenship. Also, funding does not support longer-term settlement process including market-oriented skills development programs. ESL in schools for newcomer children and youth had been reduced substantially in the few years.
  • Local service providers note that ESL training is becoming more integrated with work experience (i.e. ESL for Engineers). This is occurring as the immigrant population is relatively old (30-45), and they do not have a lot of time to start over and slowly integrate into the mainstream job market. As well, training is limited by the 1-year assistance from Student Finance. Therefore, training has become short; there is a push to give people what is useful for meaningful employment.

Community Exclusion and Social Isolation

Scope of the Issue

  • Canada was home to almost 4 million individuals who identified themselves as visible minorities in 2001, accounting for 13.4% of the total population (Statistics Canada, 2001).
  • Visible minority population is growing 6 times faster than the total population. Between 1996 and 2001, the total population increased 4%, while the visible minority population rose 25% (Census).
  • Research shows that visible minorities are at higher risk of experiencing persistent poverty than immigrants who are not visible minorities (Omidvar and Richmond 2003).
  • Recent data suggest that today’s immigrants are facing greater difficulties adjusting to like in Canada than earlier cohorts. They experience greater levels of poverty, unemployment, decreased access to affordable housing and skilled jobs. Racial discrimination and linguistic and professional barriers exacerbate this situation. (Canadian Policy Network, Papillion).
  • These groups have arrived in the last 20 years and are increasingly non-European visible minorities (Omidvar and Richmond 2003) and are experiencing severe difficulties in the labour market, and associated problems of individuals and family poverty.
  • In Edmonton, of the 26% of families falling into the low-income category, 40% were recent immigrants (Edmonton Social Plan).
  • A major factor in these trends is the underutilization of immigrant skills in the labour market (Omidvar and Richmond).
  • The duration of support for the integration of newcomers is short-term focused and coordination and roles and responsibilities among the federal, provincial and municipal governments are not clear.


  • Visible minorities experience exclusion related to the immigration process, access to services, and discrimination (Omidvar and Richmond 2003).
  • Research is showing an alarming trend: the growing racialization of urban poverty. There is a strong correlation between recent immigrant status and increased levels of poverty (Omidvar and Richmond 2003).
  • There seems to be a growing underclass of racial minorities in large urban centres, where large concentrations of visible minority immigrants are found in neighbourhoods with a poverty rate of 40% or higher (Omidvar and Richmond 2003).
  • Living in areas of high poverty has adverse effects on many life experiences, and in the case of immigrants, it leads to family conflict, loss of self-esteem, and a sense of despair about future prospects. Young immigrants who grow up in these circumstances can develop a culture of alienation from parents, their community of origin, and host country (Omidvar and Richmond).
  • There is strong and growing evidence that higher social and economic status is associated with better health. In fact, these two factors seem to be the most important determinants of immigrant health.
  • Civic and political participation appears to be low among visible minorities.

Current and Ongoing Initiatives


  • The federal government deals mainly with the early stages of settlement: orientation, reception, adult language training, settlement counseling, labour market preparation, and referrals to other services.
  • The Canada Health and Social Transfer provide payments to provincial governments for health and social assistance.
  • Settlement services are provided through Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). CIC provides two main programs:
    • Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC), which provides language training in one of the official languages.
    • Immigrant Settlement and Adaptation Program (ISAP), which facilitates adaptation, settlement and integration to Canadian society and institutions.
  • Funds are channeled directly to local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which provide services. These services are not accessible if one is a refugee claimant, or if a landed immigrant has been in Canada for more than 3 years or has citizenship.
  • Funding does not support longer-term settlement process like community development initiatives, access programs to housing, health and other social services or market oriented skills development programs.
  • In the 1990s, the Department of Canadian Heritage was reoriented to address concerns about discrimination, racism, and promote cross-cultural understanding.
  • In the 2002 Speech from the Throne, the Government promises to address barriers to employment and foreign credential recognition.
  • The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Denis Coderre, has made proposals to regulate the dispersal of immigrants to smaller cities. This is a controversial debate as it could benefits stakeholders economically, or lead to immigrant exclusion because such cities do not have the necessary resources to support integration (Omidvar and Richmond 2003).


  • Provinces have been entering agreements with the Federal government for greater control in the selection of newcomers and the delivery of settlement services. These agreements generally guarantee federal funding for settlement services, which are similar to those offered by the federal government. (Alberta does not have one such agreement).
  • Provincial governments also have a direct role in providing education, health, job training (Quebec).


  • The role of the municipal governments depends on the degree of autonomy and nature of services provinces delegate to them. Usually, municipalities are responsible for urban planning, housing, public transport, infrastructure, and cultural activities (Papillon).
  • Thus, while growing immigrant populations are creating strains in local administrations, indicating that services must be adapted, municipalities do not have flexibility in funding which comes from property taxes (Papillon). To address these needs, municipalities need to seek specific agreements with provinces to fund targeted programs and services (Papillon).
  • There is a progressive trend in urban centres towards municipal autonomy and growing pressure from municipalities for a “new deal” with provinces and the federal government regarding increased resources for immigrant settlement, and greater political voice in immigration policy (Chief Administrator’s Office 2001; Commissioner of Community and Neighborhood Services 2001, O&R).
  • The outcome for the current drive for urban reform will also depend on the political mobilization of immigrant and refugees, who now constitute a large portion of the population of major cities (Omidvar and Richmond 2003).
  • The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) encourages municipalities to initiate the promotion of municipal policies and programs that advance acceptance of cultural diversity, and finally, to aid the understanding of the relationship between immigration and municipal governments in terms of responding to newcomer’s needs. Preliminary results include research initiatives on affordable housing, health care, education and settlement services.
  • The City of Edmonton recognizes the importance of social inclusion and social cohesion in building a prosperous future and promoting equality and well-being. This through close coordination of government and non-governmental organizations in the delivery of settlement services, language training and cultural resources. Initiatives include the Diversity Leadership Team which will work to make city programs and facilities accessible to the disadvantaged with special needs and Aboriginal and ethnic communities.
  • In 1999, the Committee on Race Relations & Cross-Cultural Understanding approached one of Calgary’s Council members and requested that the City of Calgary mobilize the community to address the issues and barriers facing visible minorities. Calgary recognized the problem and assembled an inter-sectoral Task Force to develop a strategy to address these experiences and barriers to change.


  • Ethno cultural associations, which promote cultural activities and community-based events and NGOs which provide services to immigrants are organizations that respond to the needs and concerns of immigrant settlement and integration.
  • Federal and provincial funding gives priority to larger multi-ethnic NGOs that provide services on a territorial rather than ethno-cultural basis.
  • NGOs have suffered from government funding cuts in the past decade (Papillon; Omidvar and Richmond).
  • There is also increased pressure on accountability and project rather than core funding, meaning loss of autonomy for service providing NGOs, which decreases resources and time that can be input into service delivery (Papillon; Omidvar and Richmond).
  • In the long-term stage, newcomers strive to become equal participants in Canadian economic, cultural and political life (Omidvar and Richmond).
  • The persistence of high unemployment, low income, and poverty for immigrants shows an incongruity between immigration selection policies and integration policies (Lo et al 2000, O&R).

Community Actions

  • Increase people’s ability to become articulate about their issues – participate in every opportunity to bring forward ethnic minority issues and concerns.
  • Bring together different ethnocultural communities together and develop shared vision and goal.
  • Set-up community support and service centres in ethnocultural communities.
  • Educate ethnocultural community members about their rights.

Programs and Services

  • Create long-term transition programs for newcomers with greater involvement by provincial and municipal governments.
  • Develop and implement regional equity programs and Include diversity issues in provincial and municipal planning processes.
  • Increase resources to voluntary organizations to create open and accessible programs and opportunities for ethnic minority participation.
  • Vigilant monitoring of hate activities and crimes.
  • Set-up complaints procedures that are accessible, ensure speedy investigative actions and impartial.

Thoughts on Policy Actions

  • Adopt a social inclusion framework in settlement and integration, health and social policies similar to European countries.
  • Increase low income support programs for all.
  • Greater coordination in planning distribution of resources for immigrant settlement and integration among the federal, provincial and municipal governments including clarity of their roles, responsibilities and accountability.