Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s Settlement Program provides permanent residents and protected persons with vital settlement services to help them settle and integrate into the Canadian labour market and society.
Throughout the pandemic, IRCC has demonstrated flexibility and adaptability in supporting the settlement sector to respond to the needs of newcomers.
In response to the pandemic, the settlement and integration sector rapidly adjusted the delivery of most in-person services under the Settlement Program to alternative delivery modes, either by telephone and multiple online and virtual formats.
Settlement service providers are following provincial and municipal public health guidelines. This means that in-person services offered by service providers will vary depending on their location and the current guidelines in effect.
My department is working closely with Canada’s network of more than 500 settlement service providers, the private sponsorship community, as well as our provincial/territorial counterparts and other federal departments, to ensure newcomers continue to be well-supported and that services are adapted to meet their needs in the COVID-19 context.
Key steps taken early on, such as extending the validity period of language assessment results from one to two years, as well as streamlining monitoring and reporting tools, have lessened administrative pressures on service providers and allowed them to focus on client needs.
In addition, we are paying particular attention to the provision of services to particular cohorts, including vulnerable newcomers, such as women, seniors, refugees and LGBTQ+.
To meet the needs of government-assisted refugees on arrival in Canada, the Department has worked to ensure the ongoing delivery of critical Resettlement Assistance Program services, such as the provision of temporary accommodation and orientation services, while meeting public health requirements. In addition, government-assisted refugees and other vulnerable newcomers continue to be provided with settlement support, via a case management approach, to build independence and gain access to services that facilitate their integration.
Health, safety and security of newcomers and frontline employees
Early in the pandemic, the Department acquired personal protective equipment for distribution to service provider organizations providing in-person services. We now allow service providers to use their Department-issued funding to purchase personal protective equipment and related supplies to support the resumption of in-person services in accordance with public health and provincial/territorial guidelines.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and other funders, including the provincial government, quickly mobilized settlement services to help nearly 1000 laid-off permanent resident and temporary resident workers access employment insurance benefits and settlement services, during a COVID outbreak at two of Canada’s largest meat packing plants in southern Alberta.
The Department has worked to facilitate access to care during the pandemic by aligning Interim Federal Health Program benefits with provincial and territorial programs, including coverage of alternative services such as telephone and virtual appointments, for both basic and supplemental benefits where applicable. IRCC also facilitated the translation of information from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada and Finance Canada into the most widely spoken newcomer languages to address accessibility barriers on up-to-date information and directives related to COVID-19.
My department worked with Service Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency to provide information on federal benefits to settlement agency frontline workers to help newcomers navigate the various benefits available. We continue to assess eligible newcomer and refugee language needs and refer them to available language training using adapted tools in multiple formats, including virtually and on the phone.
Flexibility in settlement program delivery
My department provided administrative flexibility to the network of service providers so that they could provide wage increases of up to 15% for frontline staff delivering critical in-person services from April 1 to June 30, 2020. Wage extensions were available after June 30, 2020, at the Department’s discretion, and based on the circumstances in each region.
Other funding flexibilities have allowed service providers to purchase laptops or cell phones to be loaned to clients so that they may continue to access settlement and resettlement services remotely. In addition, the Department is allowing service providers to verify client identity over the phone or video until in-person service resumes to facilitate access to remote services.
Service providers that have not spent as much money on program delivery this year because of COVID-19 can ask to separate program delivery funds from their administrative funds. This will help them cover their administrative costs.
Ongoing engagement with settlement agencies, provinces and territories
My department and I have been in regular communication with settlement sector representatives through the National Settlement and Integration Council to update the sector on COVID-19 related information. This also provides an opportunity for the sector to raise concerns and engage in discussions.
My department has been working very closely with the provinces and territories to coordinate responses to the challenges faced by the settlement sector during COVID-19, so that we can align services and meet the needs of diverse population groups. This includes engaging with Francophone settlement service providers to understand the challenges of the Francophone sector.
As part of the Department’s commitment to deliver high quality settlement services to newcomers, we will allocate more than $30M per year over the next three years to test innovative approaches that will support service delivery improvement. In response to the pandemic, a Settlement Sector and Technology Task Group has been formed to identify successful digital and hybrid service delivery models. The task group is engaging with the settlement sector and a final report with recommendations will be available in March 2021.
Supporting facts and figures
As of 2020-21, IRCC provides funding to more than 500 settlement service provider organizations across Canada (excluding Quebec) to deliver pre- and post-arrival direct and indirect settlement services, including 79 Francophone organizations.
In 2019-2020, nearly 550,000 clients accessed at least one settlement service. This represents an increase of 20% in clients since 2017-2018, and demonstrates the increased need for direct supports and services to recent immigrants and refugees.
In 2019-2020, IRCC implemented the Francophone Integration Pathway which aims to increase and strengthen settlement and resettlement services offered to French-speaking clients by Francophone organizations, and promote awareness of these services to newcomers of all linguistic backgrounds. In the same year, 51% of French-speaking newcomers received at least one settlement service offered by a Francophone service provider, compared to 44% in 2018-2019.
In early 2020, IRCC was in the midst of finalizing the largest Calls for Proposals in the history of the Department – over 730 five-year contribution agreements, worth more than $4B, with over 500 service providers.
At the onset of the pandemic, on March 16, 2020, IRCC advised service providers to suspend all non-essential services and focus on the provision of critical services to clients facing complex barriers until further notice. They were also encouraged to provide non-critical services by alternate means, such as virtual delivery, where possible. Updated guidance on service resumption was shared with service provider organizations on June 3, 2020.
Information and orientation
The Department has prioritized the creation and distribution of health-related information for the settlement sector and newcomers. IRCC has updated its pre-arrival and in-Canada settlement-related webpages to ensure newcomers are able to locate and access both in-person and virtual settlement services in the COVID-19 context.
A factsheet on resettling to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic has been posted on IRCC’s COVID-19 webpage. Developed in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada and the International Organization for Migration, it is being distributed by the International Organization for Migration to refugees resettling to Canada and is translated into multiple languages.
The International Organization for Migration continues to deliver 1-2 hour briefings to refugees by telephone, and in-person services where possible, providing information on travel to Canada, how to protect themselves and their families and what to expect on arrival in Canada. These briefings are delivered in the refugees’ primary language, either by the facilitator or with the assistance of a translator.
Settlement Program eligibility
Permanent residents and protected persons are eligible for federally-funded settlement services. The federal government does not generally fund settlement services for temporary residents. However, in the context of certain immigration pilot programs, such as the Atlantic Immigration Pilot and the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot, certain limited supports are available to temporary residents who have been selected and are on a pathway to permanent residence.
A number of provinces and territories (PTs) and stakeholders have called for increased federal settlement funding for temporary residents. With PTs, the Department has launched joint work to assess these service needs. So far, this assessment has shown that many PTs fund and offer certain settlement supports for some temporary resident cohorts, such as international students and temporary workers, in addition to funding mainstream health and social services. Both levels of Government have agreed to pursue this work, to further develop the evidence base around service gaps but also the impacts and outcomes of existing services.
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