Speaking Notes for the Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: Opening Remarks to the National Settlement Council


As delivered

Ottawa, Ontario
January 31, 2019

Thank you very much, David, and thank you all for being here. It’s a pleasure to join you once again. I always look forward to this particular event in Ottawa every year. It gives me a chance to again reconnect with you as a group even though I work with the organizations throughout the year. And I want to thank each one of you for the work that you do every single day to help newcomers build a new life in Canada. We know that the faster that they can do that, the faster they can contribute to Canada.

And we are very grateful and lucky to live in a country where Canadians understand the positive role that the newcomers make to our country and understand that when immigrants succeed, Canada succeeds.

When I spoke to the National Settlement Council Plus event last June, I spoke about our Settlement and Integration Vision Statement.

This is a vision that was informed by many of you that IRCC put together, listening to many many of you. It not only recognizes the importance of settlement and integration to newcomers, but frames them as an integral part of our immigration policy.

And for me, it actually reinforces three connected commitments in my mandate letter.

  • One is to deliver very high-quality settlement services to ensure that newcomers succeed in Canada;
  • the second is to ensure a rigorous approach to data, and how data informs us to accurately measure outcomes in our settlement and integration programs—how do we, you know, go into granular data to see how the programs are working;
  • and the third one is to continue to welcome refugees from all over the world and ensure that they can integrate successfully into Canada. That means being a little bit more innovative in some of the tailored services toward different kind of refugees depending of the age or the circumstances. That would be captured there.

I can say with confidence that, thanks to the collaboration that we have with you, we met these commitments, and not only we have met these commitments, but we continue to build on them in order to strengthen settlement and integration services.

While we are still compiling data, it’s safe to say that, overall, settlement outcomes of newcomers are the best they have been in more than two decades.

Let me take you through some of the reasons that I feel very confident about this.

To begin with, Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey for December 2018 shows that the unemployment rate for working-age immigrants, aged 25 to 54, was 5.7% in 2018.

This is the lowest unemployment rate for this group since Statistics Canada began the survey, in 2006. So that’s very good news.

Also, for newcomers who have been in Canada for under five years and are therefore less established, we’ve seen a decline in the unemployment rate, to 8.6% of immigrants last year. This was a full percentage point lower than the previous year. Again very clear progress.

So, the data shows that, when it comes to employment and the newcomers’ ability to join our labour market, we have some very positive outcomes to share with Canadians.

And the mandate commitment regarding refugees has personal meaning to me, so I’m especially pleased with outcomes in this particular area.

This spring, IRCC will issue a major report on the 52,000 Syrian refuges who arrived in Canada, but we have already compiled some initial data from various sources.

Let me cite a few points from that data.

  • While language was often noted as an integration barrier for Syrian refugees, three-quarters of adult Syrian refugees have accessed IRCC-funded language training.
  • Nearly a third of them have received IRCC-funded employment-related services, slightly more than the average for other resettled refugees.
  • And more than half of Syrian refugees who were recently surveyed reported being currently employed—so they have a job—while close to one-quarter are actively looking for work. This is a marked increase since our Rapid Impact Evaluation in 2016.

Our partners at COSTI have also surveyed Syrian refugees and note some interesting points.

  • Three-quarters (75%) of respondents say that their families’ emotional health has improved;
  • Almost all (96%) of their children participate in school activities; and
  • All of them want to become Canadian citizens.

I should add that the outcomes report that IRCC plans to release in the spring will include information on the Syrian refugees’ economic results, based on Canada Revenue Agency information as well as Statistics Canada information.

And I want to say that Canadians should be really proud that Canada has also come to the assistance more recently of two groups – two other groups – that require support from the settlement sector—in much less numbers, but equally.

First, Canada has provided a home to over than 1,400 survivors of Daesh atrocities, and as you know, many have received assistance from you and your colleagues. These are people who have undergone unimaginable trauma and need a lot of support as they rebuild their lives in Canada.

Second, Canada is leading an international effort to ensure the safety of nearly 100 volunteers from the White Helmets civil defence organization and their families. These are people who rescue people caught in the civil war in Syria and who risk their lives to rescue people and provide immediate assistance.

IRCC is working closely with partners, both domestically and overseas, to expedite resettlement for those vulnerable refugees to get protection in Canada.

And these actions demonstrate to Canadians some of the positive outcomes we are seeing in settlement, that we are able to respond when Canada is called to provide protection to the most vulnerable.

And when I attended a meeting in December in Morocco for the Global Compact on Migration, a report by the OECD, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, was showcased in the conference of over 180 countries.

And the report clearly commended Canada as a global leader in settlement and integration and cited our practices as a model for other countries to follow.

This strong reputation that we have built is grounded in the Government’s collaboration with provinces/territories and front-line service providers.

So, moving on from our outcomes, I want to briefly note some federal initiatives that link our direction on the settlement and integration front.

To start, IRCC is has streamlined pre-arrival services for newcomers who are still abroad, to ensure that they have a clear pathway to needed services.

This will help them to settle and integrate faster and to take ownership of the settlement process as early as possible.

Essentially, what we try to do is enable the identification of the newcomers for example before they land in Canada and enable them to hit the ground running and connect them with the professional regulatory body before they even leave their country of origin so that they can start the licensing process—so that they can take advantage of that taking the ground running.

And also of course some of you know that pre-settlement services is also about connecting them with jobs before they land in Canada. 

In fact, when I made an announcement for further investments in the pre-arrival settlement services sector, one example that I made in my speech was an example of an engineer that was landing from the Philippines, an automation engineer who, through our pre-arrival settlement services partners, was able to get a job 3 days before he landed in Canada. And that’s the outcomes that we would like to see more of.

We also launched a new pilot program this December 2018 to support visible minority women in accessing the labour market. Visible minority newcomer women. It should address such needs as child care, to help these women to participate in the labour market.

And finally, we are looking at investing in improving settlement services through the Service Delivery Improvements (SDI) funding stream - 32 million dollars this year; rising to 34 million next fiscal and 36 million after that.

These and other initiatives demonstrate some of the work that we try to accomplish.

And they foreshadow some improvements we can make through the upcoming Call for Proposals for service provider organizations that operate in settlement and integration.

So, the upcoming Call for Proposals will be a roadmap to guide the direction that we see in this sector taking shape in the coming years.

And so for me as Minister, there are some priorities that I hope will be reflected in the proposals that we see from you.

For example, I hope we can aim to foster an entrepreneurial spirit and engagement with the private sector. Because there is a hunger in the private sector to be involved in this field to help newcomers, to help refugees.

And that is something we learned very much from the Syrian refugee issue. And we just scratched the surface, but the private sector is very much keen to become your partner and our partner and helping newcomers succeed whether it is providing mentorship, whether it is enabling them with in-kind support, whether it is financial support for integration essentially. And those connections will be very important moving forward.

Number 2, I hope we can continue to address connections between language skills training and employment.

How can we continue to combine that because you know very well not everyone learns optimally in a classroom? So how can we encourage people who would rather learn on the job?

And number 3, I hope we can support the principles of our Canada Connects initiative, promoting matches between newcomers and established Canadians, in the spirit of volunteerism.

And this happens already, organically. I was in Drummondville, Quebec. I saw an initiative very quietly done by the intercultural association in the town that would connect families in Drummondville who are established, with newcomer families, not to so much to do with settlement and integration, but to do the softer social inclusion pieces: showing them where the grocery store was or how to make friendships between their children. And it is family to family; it’s not run by the organization, it is purely volunteer.

And number 4, I hope to support newcomers experiencing particular vulnerability, such as those who would need mental health supports—we need to do better there. I hope the counter proposals that will be submitted will reflect those priorities.

And finally, I hope we can highlight the need to enhance Francophone services for newcomers outside of Quebec.

This list is not exhaustive, but it helps to highlight areas where we would like to expand. And our interest in these areas has emerged, partly out of the Calls for Proposals consultations we carried out over the past two years with you.

Before closing, I want to note another two important developments.

First, I’m happy to announce today that IRCC has received granting authority from Treasury Board Secretariat.

I was wondering what part of the speech will I get to it (applauses– audience laughing).

This will ensure that we have the flexibility to issue grants to organizations that have a proven track record with the Department and specifically for those organizations that provide indirect services. I think this is really important.

We will begin this new way of operating through the next Calls for Proposals, for agreements beginning in 2020-2021.

And secondly, this June, Canada will host the International Metropolis conference right here in Ottawa.

It will allow delegates from all around the world the chance to come to Canada to exchange research and best practices with you, and I hope to see some of you there.

I have covered a lot of ground today; let me close by again expressing my gratitude.

I understand as much as the main Canadians do the importance of settlement and integration, and I continue to be impressed by the collaborative efforts of you, the service providers, and the settlement community at large.

I look forward to our work together in the future to achieve our collective goals, so that newcomers can continue to help strengthen our economy, broaden our culture and contribute to our communities.

I want to end by talking about what more we can collaborate on. And this is simply a call to action.

If you travel around the world, you’ll see that, essentially, Canadians get a lot of credit and a lot of praise for our ability to welcome people from all over the world, and not only enable them to live together, which is a challenge in many countries in the world, but we somehow figured out in this country how to bring people together and learn how to work together and build a strong country.

And even though all Canadians get that credit and that praise, the real credit belongs to you, the settlement organizations; you help newcomers to settle and integrate into Canada. And by doing so, you enable Canada to succeed.

So a lot of the admiration that Canada gets in its ability to really welcome people is a result of the services you provide.

And what’s really unfortunate is we’re seeing a really deliberate effort to engage in fear mongering about refugees, about the other, and we need your help to counter that because you more than anyone else in Canada know the importance of enabling newcomers to contribute to our country.

I’ll give you an example, a very clear example, in Montréal: I met a young woman, a refugee, from Indian background. She’s an engineer. She’s a student at Concordia, and Canada gave her protection, very recently. And she’s already making a contribution. She’s created her first invention. She created a machine part to be installed in small planes that will ensure that those small planes have less emissions, less greenhouse gases. And she’s already being celebrated in her community for making that contribution.

That’s an example of a refugee who is making a contribution in Canada. And so the fear mongering threatens the ability for us to continue to live up to our commitments on the humanitarian front, but also benefit from newcomers on the value front.

And that is why at IRCC, we launched a campaign called Why Immigration Matters to highlight the numbers, the statistics, to showcase things like the fact that Nova Scotia has now recorded it first population growth in generations partly because – mainly because of the immigration programs we launched there.

So Canada is different from many countries because of how we respond to newcomers and the money and resources and the efforts we spend on settlement and integration. But now that is under attack.

I urge for you to join the Why Immigration Matters campaign because it’s not just about data, it’s also about stories; you’ll see stories of numerous newcomers from all corners of Canada who have come to Canada to contribute to their communities and who continue to do that, and who are proud of the fact that they’re now Canadian citizens.

So the attack is on what has made Canada benefit from something that has been good for Canada for decades, and as a society, one of the things we pride ourselves on is the ability to apologize for past mistake; to apologize for the ship containing Jewish refugees in the Second World War.

The Prime Minister apologized for those lapses of judgment when we sent people back as a country, people who are seeking protection from Canada; we sent them back, and a million of them were killed or persecuted or tortured.

And so I would ask people who are now attacking refugees: “Do you want to be asked to apologize for our actions today 50 years from now?” No. We should learn from the mistakes of the past, and those should guide us in our responses forward.

We’re the leaders in this field, and I would encourage you to take up this cause and to fight fear with facts, because the facts are clearly on the side of integration, the facts are clearly on the side of the importance and the benefits of providing protection to those who come to us for protection. No one can argue, for example, that the Vietnamese community has not integrated into Canada.

There’s such an amazing example of how Canada opens its doors to people who are fleeing persecution, who now are part of our society; in fact I know a group of Vietnamese Canadians who are now sponsoring Syrian refugees. Think of a better example of virtuous circle.

So I thank you for giving me your time. I’ll take a few questions, but I urge you to fight fear with facts and to take up the mantle of defending what is really the best example of settlement of refugees around the world.

Thank you very much.

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