Thank you very much. I appreciate the invitation to participate in this discussion about immigration in Atlantic Canada.
For us, immigration is about individuals and families. It's about people, often vulnerable people.
Let me describe a shared experience for many immigrants and refugees. They arrive excited and enthusiastic about a new life in Canada. Canada truly is a place of their hopes and dreams, but within a few short weeks, emotions change from excitement to frustration to unhappiness and even to anger as they realize the challenges and barriers that are ahead in their new lives in Canada.
Those challenges include learning a new language, dealing with completely different cultural norms, finding a job, not having their education and credentials recognized, and not being able to find the food they're used to. Also, parenting expectations are different. Adjusting to daily life in a place where you look and sound different to the majority of people is hard, and newcomers have to deal with prejudice, discrimination, and racism that are often covert.
This is where the people at the settlement agencies come in. Throughout Atlantic Canada there are hundreds of English teachers, settlement workers, employment counsellors, interpreters, multicultural educators, and community volunteers who support newcomers with their short-term settlement needs and their long-term integration and inclusion into life in Canada.
It is these people who are helping to make immigration successful here. They are dedicated professionals who have the best interests of newcomers at heart, and they work long hours, are often underpaid and underappreciated, and they deal with everything from employment assistance to PTSD.
These settlement workers are also amazingly flexible and creative when it comes to problem solving, because every group has different needs. Chinese families coming through the provincial nominee program are very different from Indian families coming through express entry, who are in turn very different from Syrian refugees who arrived in large numbers and came from very traumatic circumstances. Settlement staff in these agencies adjust and support and comfort as circumstances and needs arise.
So much of this is important work, and it's unseen by most Canadians, and yet this support is critical to successful immigration, settlement, and integration. There's no question that it is expensive, but it is an investment in the future of Canada.
Atlantic Canada needs successful immigration. Our population is aging—take a look at this face—our birth rate is static or declining, youth continue to leave for education and employment opportunities elsewhere in Canada, and we need diversity. The organization I work for, the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada, or PEIANC, or just “Newcomers”, as we're called locally, has been serving refugees and immigrants since 1993.
In 2016 we had a record-setting year in terms of the numbers of new immigrants and refugees who registered with us. While this is good news, it does raise a concern about the funding model that we deal with. Settlement agencies funded by IRCC are on a three-year rolling average of landings. That's all well and good when those landings are consistent year over year. In smaller locations, where numbers may vary, we can go through a couple of years of low landings and then have a big year. Meanwhile we've had cuts to our funding and have laid off staff, and the three-year rolling average doesn't catch up.
We've just been through this. Our funding was cut in 2015 by 17%—a quarter of a million dollars for this organization—after two years of low arrivals. Then in 2016 we had huge numbers, but we don't have the staff to support them.
I think, then, that it would be good to look at a funding model that would be a combination of the three-year rolling average and of looking at a minimum standard, a level below which staffing and funding would not drop.
PEIANC delivers a variety of settlement and integration services and programs. You can read the details on our website, peianc.com. We offer an online guide for newcomers in seven languages. We average more than 30,000 unique visits a month, with people staying more than three minutes per visit.
P.E.I. is a small place, and we have the good fortune to work with partners that include the French settlement agency CIF, La Coopérative d’intégration francophone, the language schools at Holland College with the study abroad program, the PEI Connectors program for newcomer business people, RDÉE, and hundreds of other agencies and organizations with whom we partner to make our island a more welcoming place for newcomers.
We're also part of a network of settlement agencies in Atlantic Canada called ARAISA, the Atlantic Region Association of Immigrant Serving Agencies. We have representation from all four provinces. We provide support for each other and we organize professional development opportunities for staff. In the past few years we've had professional development sessions for refugee workers, settlement staff, employment counsellors, and community connections people.
P.E.I. has experienced rapid growth in becoming a more multicultural place. In the past 10 years at this association alone we've registered more than 14,000 newcomers from over 130 different countries. Our culinary landscape is one of the most obvious changes. We have more international food choices than ever before. Newcomers are working in almost all sectors of the economy. Several years ago, Mandarin rose to become the second most spoken language on Prince Edward Island.
Thanks to funding from the province, we also have one settlement worker dedicated to supporting temporary residents: temporary foreign workers and international students. The main focus of this role is an educational one and to help these temporary residents find a pathway to permanent residency. Currently, that one settlement worker has a caseload of 1,400 people, with about 400 active at a time.
One area of concern we see is support for multicultural education. As we work to help established Islanders deal with the changes in population and as we help them welcome and work with newcomers, it's important that we have the resources to deliver cultural sensitivity training and diversity education. At one point we had two educators. With cuts we now have only one, and we no longer deliver multicultural education to public schools.
P.E.I. is changing because of immigration, and it's mostly a good change, but as with all changes, there are challenges. We are part of a historic shift in the life of this island. We're proud to be helping new and established Islanders by bringing people and communities together to support settlement and inclusion.
Thank you so much.