Canadian Orientation Abroad

This pre-departure orientation project, Canadian Orientation Abroad (COA), is premised on the idea that an individual who migrates to another country has a better chance of successfully adapting to his or her new life when accurate information about the new culture and society is received before arrival.

Some of the objectives are to:

  • Provide refugees and immigrants of all categories with accurate information about life in Canada;
  • Help participants develop realistic expectations regarding their settlement in Canada and increase awareness and skills necessary to successfully adapt to their new lives, especially during their first six months of stay in Canada;
  • Provide information regarding rights and freedoms, responsibilities, and obligations as Permanent Residents;
  • Address any questions and concerns regarding their move to Canada.

“It was the facilitator who made all the difference. I can still remember and recall his session about Canadian orientation and the way in which he addressed all the issues that a new immigrant can face upon arrival. The literature given by him along with the websites saved me from a lot of hassle and everything happened in a very smooth manner when I arrived in Canada. Your service is making life easier for many apprehensive immigrants like me.”

Client Testimony from a participant who attended a COA session
in Karachi for Skilled Workers in 2007


Gender equality is promoted in the sessions and COA trainers also encourage all family members to be in attendance by providing child minding, as well as reimbursement of transportation costs to and from a session. When required, IOM coordinates and provides ground transportation for camp-based refugees, from refugee camps to a COA training location. Meals and refreshments are also provided in many COA locations as participants may travel long distances, cannot return home for meals, and require sustenance to remain alert and comfortable during a session.

Training hours, methods, and materials reflect the varied needs and circumstances of participants. Consideration is given to cultural, religious, and other practices as well as possible experiences of past persecution or current circumstances in the country of asylum (for refugees). Accommodations are also made for physical organization of the training space, the hours, methods and materials for non- or less-literate participants, persons with visual or hearing impairments, as well as women, youth, or elderly audiences.

Newcomer Involvement

A key objective of COA sessions is to encourage the involvement of participants. All COA sessions begin with an informal needs assessment, typically posed through an interactive series of question and answers. Facilitators ask participants about what they know about Canada, what they would like to know or learn during the session, what concerns, fears, or pressing issues they would like to discuss or have resolved. These answers are often posted in the orientation room. Facilitators use various methods to check in with participants to see if the issues or questions they have identified as important are being covered and being covered in a manner that is satisfactory and participants have understood. COA facilitators are sensitive to the needs of participants and facilitate learning as opposed to "teaching". Facilitators incorporate interactive methods of training (hands-on activities, scenarios, case studies, and a variety of visual aids), and participants are able to draw on their own experiences and make connections for themselves. Participants are encouraged to share their knowledge and experiences with the facilitator and other participants.

Stakeholder Collaboration

Consultation between CIC NHQ (National Headquarters) and COA Management is ongoing and frequent. CIC provides input and direction with respect to the location of COA sites (which countries and clienteles are to be covered), the numbers trained overall each year, eligibility for COA, the resources IOM develops for COA as well as the activities implemented throughout the year. In recent years, COA management has actively sought engagement with domestic service provider organizations to increase mutual understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities. Service providers have provided to COA input and feedback on issues presented by newcomers to Canada. COA has reflected this information in its content and in its methodology. COA organized and funded visits by 14 Resettlement Assistance Program staff and one staff from the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program to one of three COA locations in February 2010.


The International Organization for Migration is required to submit, to Citizenship and Immigration Canada as funder, accounting statements as well as statements of progress on the project which include and may not be limited to narrative and statistical reports. These reports and outputs are measured against the achievement of performance objectives set out and agreed upon by IOM and CIC in yearly Contribution Agreements.

Positive Outcome

COA training sessions have concrete benefits for:

  1. Immigrants (of all categories), who develop realistic expectations, gain a better understanding of Canada, and become aware of the skills necessary for their successful adaptation—with specific regard to settling-in procedures and job-searching, as well as practical tips on living in Canada;
  2. Refugees (government-assisted and privately sponsored), who develop realistic expectations about life in Canada and become aware of the skills necessary for the successful adaptation, and also gain a better understanding of Canada and Canadian society, as well as resettlement programs and services available to them in Canada; and
  3. Live-in Caregivers, who develop realistic expectations about working and life in Canada, and who are made aware of issues regarding Canadian labour laws, contract expiry/extension, permanent resident status, and sponsorship.


COA has grown over the years in terms of the number of locations as well as the yearly total of individuals trained. In the first fiscal year, 1998-1999, the total number of participants trained was 773. In the following year, there was a sharp increase to 8,222 trained (1999-2000), then a reduction to 4,949 (2001-2001), and thereafter a steady increase. From 2002-2003 onwards, the numbers trained have remained relatively static at approximately 13,000+.

Since 2003, the number of permanent COA sites has varied from 10 to 15 locations. Some have closed in response to requests or pressures by the host countries (Vietnam, 1999-2004, and Iran, 2001-2009), a reduction in referrals, or a cease in refugee resettlement from a particular location (COA for Karen refugees in Thailand, 2006-2009).

However, one of the essential points of note about the project is its flexibility to move or shift to locations based on the identified need to provide orientations to specific clienteles.


Service Providers
International Organization for Migration (IOM)
Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC)
Fourteen permanent coordinating sites around the world (Colombia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Syria), four satellite sites, and mobile training missions as needed.
Year of Launch
Languages of Delivery
English, French and other languages
Newcomer Groups Served
Immigrant-serving agencies, multicultural and ethno-cultural groups, public sector institutions, provincial and municipal government
Expected Results
Information and Orientation (Newcomers make informed decisions about their settlement and understand life in Canada).

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