Limited access, limited success

Newcomer citizens and refugee claimants now ineligible for settlement support

There are still well over 13,000 newcomers arriving in Manitoba each year, even though the numbers have dropped since 2011. Over 80 per cent of these foreigners end up living in Winnipeg, the rest elsewhere in the province.

Recent changes to federal immigration policy, as well as to the process through which settlement services and English as an Additional Language (EAL) programs are funded, have meant that, not only are the demographics of newcomers changing, the access they have to education and support is too.

Shannon MacFarlane, the CEO of Waverly EAL Consulting Inc. which operates both Winnipeg English Language Assessment and Referral Centre (WELARC) and Enhanced English Skills for Employment (EESE), describes the switch from being provincially funded to now submitting proposals to the federal government.

“A year and a half ago the federal government said, wait a minute we’ve changed our mind, we want to repatriate the funding… we don’t want to give it to the province anymore, we want to give it directly to the Service Provider Organizations. So this was a big change for us for a number of reasons.”

One of the biggest changes has been the criteria for who is eligible to access the many diverse types of settlement services here in Manitoba – programs which currently require almost 40 million dollars to operate each year. 

“Now what happened,” continues MacFarlane, “is that we, meaning the SPOs, had to go to the federal government in order to get our funding, and the federal rules are very clear: these services are not available to Canadian citizens or refugee claimants.”

When the funding was administered by the province, there was no such restriction for citizens or refugee claimants.  Both the staff and clients at a myriad of local organizations are affected by this, including EAL programs that are a part of larger educational institutions like the University of Winnipeg, University of Manitoba, Red River College and Winnipeg Technical College as well as independently run programs like Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM), Mosaic Newcomer Family Resource Network and others.

Though many people who work in the field may fear that the federal government could deem some of these organizations unnecessary and cut their funding dollars, the problem isn’t that the amount of funding (and who receives it) has changed – or not just yet. The issue right now is that many people who’ve immigrated here are suddenly cut off from these supports, ineligible to access the language and settlement programs they need in order to successfully integrate into our city, our society.  

The province’s response to this has so far been hands-off, as evidenced in the statement provided by Naline Rampersad, Cabinet Communications at the Province of Manitoba.

“In assuming responsibility for the direct funding and administration of language-training and settlement services in Manitoba, CIC [Citizenship and Immigration Canada] is now responsible… to ensure that service agencies have sufficient capacity to meet the service needs of the immigrants who are referred to them.”

What this fails to address is how all the newcomers who have become citizens, yet still need language training, will access services that can no longer be provided to them by the now federally funded programs. Also a concern is how refugee claimants, who may wait years to receive refugee status, will have their language and settlement needs provided for.  

MacFarlane, who also acts as president of Manitoba English as an Additional Language Organizations, confirms that Manitoba is the only province that doesn’t currently step in to provide for such clients.

“In March, the Assistant Deputy Minister announced to all of the service provider organizations that there would be some money forthcoming… to accommodate those clients,” she reports. “In August, we were told that’s not happening. CIC tells me that we are the only province in the country [where] the province doesn’t give money to help for those services to Canadian citizens – every other province apparently does it, and through different ways…”

Though the province touts its provision of funding for Manitoba Start, the organization that registers all newcomers and refers them to the appropriate settlement support resources, the disconnect remains: what good is it to be eligible for a referral from Manitoba Start if you’re ineligible for any of the service provider organizations anyway?

Rampersad maintains that the provincial government is keeping an eye on the situation.

“Manitoba continues to monitor the transition and we are committed to raise concerns, if they arise, with the federal government regarding the transition.”

All of the many stakeholders can only hope that newcomer citizens and refugee claimants don’t fall through the cracks while the buck gets passed between the provincial and federal government over who’s responsible to administer settlement support for all these people.

Published in Volume 68, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 13, 2013)

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