If you’ve been in the sector, you’ve heard stats thrown around about how only about 40% of newcomers actually access settlement services. Here’s a summary of some research where those numbers come up. You can download a bunch of reports with more detailed information below (this isn’t meant to be the definitive list, just useful reports I’ve found on the topic. All links are to PDF documents).
The most recent report from Statistics Canada Settlement services provided to immigrants to Canada, 2020 (2022) found "By April 2021, close to half (46.3%) of adult immigrants admitted from 2016 to 2020 accessed at least one type of settlement services. Refugees, who came to Canada in order to escape war, violence, conflict or persecution in their home countries, accessed settlement services the most among all immigrants. The vast majority of refugees (89.4%) accessed settlement services. By comparison, dependents of economic immigrants (51.0%), family sponsored immigrants (40.4%), and economic principal applicants (35.2%) relied less on those services."
The Settlement Outcomes Highlights Report (2021) provides some important statistics based mainly on service access in their landing year:
The numbers are much lower, suggesting a lack of timely access for many in their first year. Research on newcomers accessing services is extensive and is consistent with this finding:
Note: I'm adding to the links above as new reports are released. The narrative below was written in 2019, when this post was first published. It does not reflect the new additions above. However, as you'll see, the numbers are fairly consistent historically.
Research shows that newcomers lack awareness of the services available to them in their local community, both in-person and internet based. While organizations such as community centres, settlement agencies, and government have been identified as significant information sources for immigrants, research has shown that, depending on the support issue, newcomers do not cite settlement services as their primary source of help in a majority of cases. Research has indicated that a relatively small percentage of newcomers to Canada access mainstream in-person government and community services in their initial settlement. In the available research between 30% – to 50% of those surveyed have not accessed local settlement services (find more in Xue 2007, Wilkinson & Bucklaschuk 2014, Lo et al 2010, Esses et al 2013a, Esses et al 2013b, Vancouver Immigration Partnership 2015, IRCC Evaluation Division 2017).
In almost every report, family and friends are identified as the number one information source consulted by all immigrants. This is a theme throughout foundational immigrant information practice research and confirmed in newer research studying refugee information practice using mobile devices and messaging apps. Media sources, such as the mainstream media and the Internet were identified as a second most popular information source. In particular, respondents in many of the studies identified a preference for material in their language as preferred (find more in Caidi et al 2008, Canada 2003, Wilkinson et al, 2014, Lo et al 2010, Esses et al 2013, Esses et al 2013, Dekker et al 2018, TRIEC 2012, Vancouver Immigration Partnership, 2015, Jalal & Naik 2018).
Sources of information and the weight newcomers give them have direct impacts on their settlement and integration success. For example, newcomers who found work through family or friends fared worse than those who used more mainstream services (find more in Fang et al 2010).
Access to the internet, social media and smartphones does not mean awareness of services is automatic. Internet access is not a panacea for success or awareness of services. Awareness of settlement services among a diverse set of newcomers remains a crucial challenge. In one survey 80% of the recent immigrants used the Internet, fewer than 13% had heard of online services available to them (Lo et al, 2010). This was recently confirmed regarding pre-arrival services (IRCC 2018).
Evaluations of pre-arrival information services suggest that skilled immigrants do not typically carry out pre-arrival research. When they do they continue to rely on friends and family for the information (Johnson & Baumal 2016, Alemasoom et al 2018). This challenge was recently reconfirmed in an IRCC evaluation of online pre-arrival services. 71% of eligible newcomers surveyed about pre-arrival services were not aware of the existence of these services. 83% indicated they would have tried to access these services had they known about them. In fact in a two-year period evaluated, between 7.3% and 12% of eligible newcomers admitted to Canada accessed pre-arrival services. Those who accessed pre-arrival services found them useful (IRCC 2018, Alemasoom et al 2018).
Most recently the Peel Regional Diversity Roundtable released a report that sought to answer why newcomers do not access formal settlement services in the region. (Jalal & Naik 2018) Among other findings, they report that “The participants in our focus groups emphasized repeatedly that they turned to non-formal support systems in their settlement journey… While some sentiments that surfaced around formal newcomer settlement supports have varied, the overwhelming response shared has been around the fact that settlement services are not meeting the needs of newcomers.” The authors recommend better and formal coordination between the two systems: “In addition to funding for the non-formal settlement supports, it is highly recommended that creative collaborations and partnerships be developed between the formal and non-formal bodies, with clear measurable deliverables.”
In keeping with previous research from Fang et al, Jalal & Naik, found that “Among those who have landed employment, many have said that they are not satisfied with their job and are in it due to lack of other options. Most shared that they got the jobs due to the personal contacts.” Informal supports, while more heavily accessed, simply do not provide the outcomes newcomers need.
Hanley, Jill, et al found, specific to recently arrived Syrian former refugees, “Many of our participants asserted that it is not part of their culture to ask for help outside of their immediate circle of family and friends. Asking for help is feared to make one more vulnerable because strangers and authority figures could be dangerous in Syria but also because, culturally, Syrians are used to counting on themselves with the inexistence of community groups or the difference in the role they play. Consequently, and based on past experiences, many unknown community members, public services and community organizations here in Canada were suspicious to some participants… We see, however, that there is a high degree of mutual aid and information-sharing within the community, so it can be helpful to train community knowledge brokers (local champions, community leaders) to spread the news and to engage in outreach. Service providers should not wait for Syrian refugees to come to ask for help; seeking information from formal sources is simply not their habit.”
If you’re wondering what it all means, it means that immigrant and refugee-serving agencies need to step up their outreach game… I’ve written and presented about that over here.
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