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Newcomers to Edmonton from other countries are facing barriers to employment and education, and the city needs to refresh its policy to firm up and make explicit its commitment to immigrants and involve those communities in creating it, a new report has found.

The second-annual state of immigration and settlement report, reviewed by councillors at the community and public services committee last week, concludes that while the responsibility for supporting migrants largely rests with the federal government, there are things the municipality, and all Edmontonians, can do. The City of Edmonton and other public institutions need to build authentic relationships with immigrants, refugees, and evacuees, so they can develop relevant policies to support them, and draw on and recognize their skills and strengths, the report found. The city also needs to improve its perception as an employer because the feeling that it’s unfriendly to diverse employees is common despite work toward anti-racism and inclusion policies.

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Councillors passed a motion asking for the policy to be revised.

Around 180 members of a diverse group of people from 10 communities were interviewed for the report. Interviewees concluded the city needs to update its immigration policy with migrants to be effective and reflective of this community’s needs and assets.

“Our institutions need to better understand, through these authentic relationships, the systemic barriers that prevent vulnerable newcomers from fully integrating and participating in our city, and to take urgent and direct action to remove these barriers,” the report states.

“We heard the following sentiment from community members repeatedly: ‘Diversity and inclusion at the City of Edmonton is just lip service, not a truly meaningful action.’ Systemic change, accountability, and transparency are required to change this perception.”

International conflicts and crises are driving immigration to Edmonton, recently from the war in Ukraine, conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria, and climate catastrophes pushing others out of their homes. As Canada plans to welcome a record number of immigrants in the next two years, the report says it’s important to consider what the newcomers experience when they arrive in Edmonton.

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The research found many newcomers disproportionately face barriers such as poverty, language, racism, discrimination, PTSD, unemployment, non-recognition of credentials, and a lack of affordable housing, the report found. This means they are often excluded from things meant to be accessible to all Edmontonians, like education, affordable housing, employment, health care and other programs and services, the staff summary states.

Immigrants are often reduced to what they can offer Canada on an economic model the report says, but it’s important this view be shifted to see migrants as multidimensional people who have strengths and weaknesses that can be harnessed to contribute to society in meaningful ways, and that migrants are directly involved in crafting policies that impact them.

The report calls for the City of Edmonton and community and service providers to better tell refugees’ and evacuees’ stories, and connect these to the stories of Edmontonians who arrived through the various waves of migration over history to reinvigorate empathy and support for the migrant experience.

Employment and education are top issues

Yvonne Chiu, a co-chairwoman for the project, told councillors that she and her colleagues, through her work with the Multicultural Health Brokers Cooperative, hear daily that newcomers are struggling with housing, employment and food security. Employment was identified as the top concern.

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“Inequitable employment remained to be the chronic, pervasive barrier to successful integration and even basic wellness. This is still a major problem in our community,” she told councillors.

Education is another struggle. Education is a marker of integration for newcomer children and youth, and to be successful they need a strong and seamless partnership with between the school boards, community, and the city, Chiu said.

The city’s 2007 immigration and settlement policy shows a commitment to supporting newcomers but it needs to be refreshed, she said.

“It is really important that we really remember that it is a relational policy that could help connect the city administration with migrants and racialized community members. It’s a chance to co-create the solutions,” Chiu said. “We have the Indigenous framework and policy, but for our population, there is nothing that is overarching that is a clear sign of commitment from the city.”

Finding gainful employment is a key way newcomers contribute to their communities and support themselves and their families. But the report found employers often determine a potential worker’s worth with limiting criteria.

The way job postings are written can dissuade migrants from applying and can exclude them by including unnecessary requirements for work duties.

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For instance, using job titles and descriptions that are too generic, vague, and which use unfamiliar acronyms or jargon can deter applicants. Job postings may also require levels of education or Canadian work experience that are unnecessary for the work required, and they may not explicitly lay out what is expected in resumes and cover letters. Including a clear description of duties and expectations, a commitment to equity-based hiring practices, explicitly encouraging newcomers or immigrants to apply, and paying wages that match expected qualifications, experiences and duties is recommended.

The report also highlights the importance of seeing newcomers’ strengths through the wealth of experiences and connections they have, apart from money. This means recognizing qualities and skills many newcomers bring, such as a diversity of perspectives for creative problem-solving and language skills, connections to cultural communities that can be leveraged for finding other employees and customers, hard work ethics and optimism to build their new lives in Edmonton, and their abilities to navigate complex systems because of their settlement experience.

Migrants want to be reflected in policy

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Coun. Keren Tang was glad to see migrants engaged directly in this project about their experiences. She said the findings show this group is facing challenges to employment that other Edmontonians may take for granted.

“When you’re highly educated in one country, when you migrate over, sometimes your credentials don’t translate, and then you’re kind of stuck in low-wage employment, and how that can become entrenched and further someone’s struggle or challenges as they try to integrate in the city,” she said.

She also heard there is a lot of work the City of Edmonton can do to create an environment that enables people to participate fully in the community and city life, and that includes revising the immigration and settlement policy.

“I think people just want to see themselves reflected in the policies that we set as a city government, and I think that is a fair desire,” she said, adding the policy is simple and symbolic.

“But I think people want to see certain languages, lived experiences reflected,” she said. “I think just over time, perhaps (it was) maybe losing touch with what this policy is really wanting us to do. And I think for administration, having something like (a policy) in place will also guide the action plan.”

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