The settlement journey for refugees in Canada


Resettling refugees is a proud part of Canada’s humanitarian tradition. It demonstrates to the world that we have a shared responsibility to help those who are displaced, persecuted and most in need of protection.

Every refugee’s journey is unique in terms of the opportunities and challenges they face as they resettle and make Canada their new home. The Government of Canada wants refugees to integrate well in their new communities, improve their English or French, find jobs and succeed. To accomplish this, close to a billion dollars is invested every year in settlement, resettlement and integration services that are available both in Canada and around the world. In addition to these services, countless volunteers in communities across Canada make a priceless contribution to welcome refugees and help them find their way.

While refugees are encouraged to become self-sufficient as quickly as possible, it is not expected that they will all do so after just one year in Canada. For those refugees who need additional support, social assistance programs are available in every province in Canada to help until the refugees can support themselves and their families.

Before arriving in Canada

When refugees receive notice that they have been accepted as a permanent resident to Canada, they may have already been displaced from their homes for years. During this time, they may have been hoping to be able to return safely home. Now they face a new challenge: making a life in a new country, possibly needing to learn a new language and adapting to a culture that may be unknown to them.

For those who can access the internet either via their smartphones or by other means, there is extensive information available on life in Canada. However, some refugees may arrive without knowing how day-to-day life works in Canada or having a firm grasp of how to ensure their ultimate success.

Since 2010, Canada has been delivering in-person and online services known as ‘Pre-Arrival Services’ to both immigrants and refugees before they arrive in Canada. Available in a wide variety of languages both online and in-person at locations around the world, these services provide information and orientation to help newcomers learn about living and working in Canada. This includes information about education, work experience and help getting professional licenses and certificates recognized in Canada. These same Pre-Arrival Services also provide information about and referrals to the free settlement services newcomers can get once they arrive in Canada.

Orientation Abroad classes may be especially useful for refugees who have been living in refugee camps for extended periods of time and who need more fundamental orientation as part of resettlement in Canada.

Short-term after arriving in Canada

Upon arriving in Canada, government-assisted refugees and blended visa office-referred refugees are welcomed at the airport by staff from Resettlement Assistance Program service provider organizations. Staff from these organizations help meet the immediate and short-term needs of the newly arrived refugees. This includes providing a temporary place to stay, such as a reception house or a hotel, while they help the refugees get resettled in Canada and find affordable and suitable permanent housing. These organizations also ensure each refugee’s short-term food and clothing needs are met and help them connect with specialized service provider organizations who will provide the necessary support to meet their medium- and longer-term needs.

For privately sponsored refugees, it is their sponsor who meets them at the airport and ensures immediate and short-term needs are met. The sponsor will take them to either temporary or permanent accommodations and help them become oriented in their new community. Private sponsors have agreed to provide financial support and community orientation to their sponsored refugee(s) for one year.

For more information on the experiences of privately sponsored refugees and how Canada’s innovative privately sponsored refugee system works, see the following videos:

Many refugees arrive in Canada with physical conditions or psychological trauma as a result of the horrors of war. Additionally, many have been living in refugee camps or urban slums with limited access to balanced nutrition medical assistance for extended periods of time. For that reason, they often arrive in Canada with unique medical needs. Canada’s Interim Federal Health Program addresses the immediate and short-term medical needs of both government-assisted and privately sponsored refugees while they await their provincial or territorial health cards.

Copies of two settlement publications, First Steps and Welcome to Canada, are made available to refugees free of charge once they’ve arrived in Canada. First Steps is available in many different languages and serves as a very basic guide to help newcomers get oriented, especially in their first days and weeks. Welcome to Canada serves as a more advanced guide for newcomers and is especially useful in the first weeks and months.

Medium-term after arriving in Canada

In order to help refugees focus all of their efforts on integrating successfully into their communities and accessing settlement services like English or French language classes, financial assistance is offered to those refugees who are most in need for up to one year. For government-assisted refugees and Blended Visa Office-Referred refugees, this temporary support is offered as a part of the Resettlement Assistance Program. For privately sponsored refugees, this support is provided by the sponsors.

Once they have arrived in Canada, all refugees have access to the full suite of federally funded settlement supports that are available to all permanent residents. In 2015 alone, more than 400,000 newcomers, including both refugees and immigrants, accessed settlement services. These services are provided by specialized Service Provider Organizations located across Canada and are designed to help newcomers integrate and build a successful life in Canada as quickly as possible.

Among other things, these service provider organizations offer help with

  • needs assessment and referrals;
  • information and orientation to help newcomers make informed settlement decisions;
  • language assessment and training to help adult newcomers function in Canadian society and contribute to the economy;
  • support for newcomers to find and retain employment, including referrals to assess foreign credentials;
  • building networks in communities; and
  • helping refugees fill out forms for health insurance, social insurance numbers, school registration and other necessities.

In addition, for children and youth specifically, the settlement program provides funding for settlement workers in schools. These settlement workers are placed in nearly 3000 elementary and secondary schools across Canada that have high numbers of immigrant students. They offer a range of specialized, culturally appropriate services for newcomer children, including needs assessment and action planning, information and orientation, service bridging, supported referrals and casework, conflict resolution and non-therapeutic counselling, cultural understanding, linguistic interpretation and community outreach.

For refugees who don’t speak English or French fluently, the single biggest and most important part of the settlement journey is getting enrolled in language training as early as possible. Service provider organizations let refugees know that demand for basic language training classes is high.

Longer-term after arriving in Canada

Because learning a new language, finding employment and fully integrating into a new community takes time, settlement support services are available as long as a newcomer is a permanent resident. It is not expected that all refugees will be able to fully support themselves after just one year in Canada. Refugees are also encouraged to access as many free settlement support services as they need to help them succeed in their settlement journey.

While the current Syrian refugee crisis is unique in terms of its size and scope globally, Canada has been resettling and integrating refugees for generations. We have built an expertise in helping newcomers integrate and succeed in the long term. Data collected by Statistics Canada show that the settlement and integration process takes time but ultimately works for both the refugees themselves and the rest of Canada. Within two years after arrival, the median income for newcomers, including refugees, more than doubles.

Canada is a recognized international leader in the settlement and integration of newcomers. For generations, we have welcomed newcomers, including refugees, who have helped us build a free, democratic and prosperous society. Resettlement and successful integration takes time, and Canada’s refugee resettlement programs are there to help ensure the long-term success of newcomers while providing immediate protection and support to those in need.

To learn more about the settlement journey for refugees and to hear individuals talk specifically about their unique journeys, you can view the following videos:

Infographic: Settlement journey for refugees in Canada

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