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COVID & Canada’s Settlement Sector: Report (2020)

Posted on:
March 27, 2021

What is this research about?

This survey provides a snapshot of the Canadian immigrant and refugee-serving sector at during the first month of working remotely as a result of COVID-19. It looks at what is working, sector challenges and concerns and sector successes and failures from both the front-line and management perspective.

What do you need to know?

Like everyone, the immigrant and refugee-serving sector became #suddenlyremote. Agencies had to make decisions quickly to respond to the ever-changing environment. They have been learning, exploring, managing differently.Immediately, there seemed to be an opportunity to check in to see how the sector is doing. How are front-line workers? How are leadership (managers, EDs, Boards)? How easily have they been able to transition your administration infrastructure to remote and virtual work? How are newcomers doing?We created a survey to check in with our immigrant and refugee-serving sector colleagues across the country.

What did the researchers do?

An English-only survey was created and distributed to the sector to be completed between March 30, 2020 and April 20, 2020. Participants were asked to choose a path through the survey, based on their role in their organization:1.Front-line settlement practitioner (any role that is primarily client facing - includes Settlement, Employment, Housing, Health, Childcare, RAP Case worker, Youth,Volunteer Coordinator, Administration (receptionist, assistant), Job developer, etc); 2.Leadership:Program Coordinator/SupervisorManager LevelDirector Level/Senior Leadership/VPExecutive DirectorBoard of Directors.

166 completed the survey. 156 answered the final demographic questions.

Front-line practitioner - 108 started (with some drop-off as they progressed through the survey, some questions had 104, 105, 102 to a low of 95 respondents by the final front-line practitioner question). 97 indicated they work in front-line positions in demographic questions.

Organizational leadership - 58 started and consistently answered questions (only 1 person dropped off in later questions which stayed consistently at 57 respondents). 64 indicated they were in leadership positions, which suggests that some organizational leaders may have followed the front-line path

299 survey participants actually started the survey. 133 left the survey after choosing their role as front-line practitioner or leadership level. The authors were not able to explain this drop off of survey participants, so they chose 166 as their final count of survey participants.

What did the researchers find?

Overall, sector respondents, both front-line and in leadership positions indicate that their agency has been able to make the move online and is adapting to remote work.However, balance was  difficult. There is anxiety and stress. Many have families, sharing space and time with them as they attend to home life pressures, while attempting to launch a new way of serving anxious clients using existing and new technologies, and dealing with their own anxieties about the pandemic.

The majority of frontline staff and leadership who participated in this survey are finding coping strategies to make this transition workable. Almost two-thirds of front-line practitioners have been able to make the switch successfully to remote work. Almost 25% even found themselves surprised to be enjoying this way of working.However, almost one-third found themselves struggling. Among leadership an almost equal number were making the switch to remote work successfully,with 52% finding it challenging but that they have been able to adapt. However, almost one-third found it a big shift, with 21% working longer hours.

Most front-line practitioners indicated that making a connection with newcomers was difficult in a digital service environment. In spite of video being a face to face interaction, some workers don’t find video provides the same experience. It would be useful to explore this further to determine if this is a technology, personal comfort, training or other challenge. As well, the real issue of client digital divide came up with some clients simply not having the technology or digital literacy to access technology-mediated remote services. In many cases phone technology was used,but was also found to be a challenge for clients who prefer in-person interactions.

Even when working in offices providing in-person services research and anecdotal evidence have shown that front-line practitioners use personal devices (usually smartphones) and accounts (usually digital messaging) to serve their clients.

Agencies are trying to maintain the service levels that they previously provided to newcomers.In some cases, they have defined for themselves what are core or critical services, which may align or surpass IRCC’s definition.

How can you use this research?

The authors created this survey to document the initial reactions, strategies and feelings about transitioning to remote work, as well as to ignite discussion. The authors encourage organizations to use some of their survey questions to check in with their staff, leadership, and clients. The current scenario individuals and organizations are navigating is a major shift in the way the immigrant and refugee-serving sector works and serves newcomers: "In the coming months, as the sector figures out next steps, we hope this document guides,supports and provokes conversations about what's possible. We hope this survey contributes to these conversations. This document illustrates opinions of a portion of the sector, who self-selected to participate. We hope if you did not participate in this survey you will join these many conversations."


Access to the complete survey data for those interested in conducting their own analysis is available below. The authors are interested in how you might use this data and what conclusions you might draw from it. Access to the data in two forms:


This survey provides a snapshot of the Canadian immigrant and refugee-serving sector at during the first month of working remotely as a result of COVID-19. It looks at what is working, sector challenges and concerns and sector successes and failures from both the front-line and management perspective.