Apr 11 2014


Johnna, a member of the Caregivers’ Action Centre, speaks at the launch of the Metcalf Foundation’s report
on how recruitment practices exploit temporary foreign workers. Fay Faraday, the report’s author, looks on.


Alma, a live-in caregiver from the Philippines, paid $4,000 as recruitment fees to come to Canada. She also bought her airplane ticket costing more than $1,000 despite the Live-in Caregiver Program mandating that the employer should pay for it.

As the money Alma paid to the recruiter was more than three years’ earnings in the Philippines, Alma borrowed it at an exorbitant rate of interest. Given the minimum wage she earns here in Toronto, it would take at least three years to pay back the debt.

Alma should consider herself lucky. “Some others had to pay as much as $12,000 in fees,” says Johnna, a member of the Caregivers’ Action Centre, who, like Alma, did not disclose her surname for fear of repercussions.

Johnna was present at the launch of the Metcalf Foundation’s report on Profiting from the Precarious: How Recruitment Practices Exploit Migrant Workers on April 8, 2014 to talk of the travails of live-in caregivers like her with fellow panellists from the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

In 2012, there were more than 338,000 temporary foreign workers living in Canada. Their numbers more than doubled from 2006 to 2012, and they now equal the population of Greater Victoria in B.C. In Toronto alone, the number skyrocketed by 237% in the same period, from 27,083 to 64,284. To feed this demand, an industry of recruiters has emerged to match workers with jobs.

“Recruitment is where it all starts. It is the point ripe for exploitation and least examined,” says Fay Faraday, the Metcalf report’s author. “And abuse continues to resonate throughout a worker’s labour migration cycle.”

The report draws on in-depth interviews with workers in the Greater Toronto Area and southern Ontario, and community organizers in Canada and abroad.

Proactive regulations needed

After analysing the existing legal model to protect workers against recruitment abuse when they arrive here in Canada, Faraday is of the opinion that Ontario’s complaint-based laws fail to provide effective protection or enforce their rights.

As the Ontario government has recently introduced two bills, one that addresses worker recruitment  and the other for protecting low-wage temporary foreign workers, there is both urgency and opportunity to examine legal models that could provide effective, meaningful and accessible safeguards.

Faraday hopes her findings along with recommendations can help close the vast and disturbing gap between the current law’s promise of protection and the reality of ongoing exploitation.

Both internationally and within Canada, models for regulating recruitment of temporary foreign workers have been moving away from individual complaint-driven laws like Ontario’s.

“The Ontario model is out of step with the best practices in Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan. It is failing to get any meaningful protection for the low-wage migrant population,” says Faraday. “It is crucial for the province to move beyond shop-worn phrases that blame ‘unscrupulous recruiters’ and ‘exorbitant fees’ and address these systemic issues now.”

She says Ontario must move towards regulatory regimes like the other provinces that include licensing of recruiters, mandatory registration of employers who hire temporary foreign workers, financial security deposits to compensate workers who have been charged illegal fees and proactive investigation, audits and enforcement by labour protection officials.


Mar 21 2014


On March 21, 1960, South African police opened fire on black protesters who had surrounded a police station in Sharpeville, killing 69 people. The protest was over the ruling regime’s pass laws, which required blacks to carry passbooks with them any time they traveled out of their designated home areas.

The shooting sparked protests and riots and was a turning point in the history of apartheid. It also brought international condemnation on South Africa. In 1966, the United Nation proclaimed March 21 as “International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination” and has been urging member states to organize events during the “Action Week against Racism.”

Cities across the world, from Auckland to Montréal, will be marking the week through various programs like the “I am Aotearoa New Zealand … te ranga tahi, together we grow.” For many cities in Europe and other parts of the world, campaigns against racism and xenophobia are year-round efforts.

Dublin’s publicity campaign, Transport Links, Racism Divides, runs across the city’s buses, trams, trains and taxis. It was launched after reports emerged of racial abuse of the Irish city’s transport workers.

Similarly, the city of Edmonton decided to challenge the often polite Canadian conversation on multiculturalism and the idea that racism is no longer a problem in the  community. Edmonton was among the first cities in the country to join the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination (CCMARD).

To create a welcoming and inclusive city, the Belgian city of Ghent has also been doing exceptional work. Ghent’s Day against Racism campaign, a ten-point action plan to eliminate racism and discrimination, includes an innovative Youth Ambassador project led by young immigrants eager to promote an open society and motivate others with their success stories.

In classrooms across Germany and Spain, the All Kids Are VIPs program challenges children to think up ideas for promoting equality and a discrimination-free environment. And it rewards them with visits from their heroes – football stars, music icons and movie stars.

Interested in doing your part in fighting racism? The UNESCO-sponsored Ten-Point Plan of Action for the European Coalition of Cities Against Racism (PDF) is a good starting point to understand what can be done.

Mar 19 2014


Living in Canada transforms the way we see the world, said John Monahan,
executive director of the Mosaic Institute. Photo: Ranjit Bhaskar

Canada does not “import” violent conflict despite some in its diasporic communities remaining invested in overseas conflicts, says a new study by the Mosaic Institute. But these conflicts still have a large and lingering effect on the lives of many Canadians.

“We do import trauma,” said Rima Berns-McGown, research director for the institute’s study The Perception & Reality of “Imported Conflict” in Canada. “That trauma is a heavy burden and can transcend generations. How we treat it will have a major impact on our social cohesion. If left untreated, trauma can impede integration and negatively affect [immigrants’] attachment to Canada.”

Presenting the study at a conference in Toronto on March 17, Dr. Berns-McGown said while Canada does a good job at inclusion, it does a “terrible job in helping those with trauma.”

The study was funded as part of the federal government’s Kanishka Project to research pressing questions for Canada on terrorism and counter-terrorism.

It examined both Canadians’ perceptions and lived experience of “imported conflict” by surveying almost 4,500 people and holding interviews and focus groups with 300 Canadians with family connections to conflict zones.

‘The mosaic is working’

While for many the effects of conflict do not diminish after coming to Canada, their attitudes and perception of traditional adversaries change along with their views on possible solutions. “It shows us that living in Canada transforms the way we see the world. The mosaic is working reasonably well,” said John Monahan, executive director of the institute.

The single most powerful factor in Canada’s ability to reframe immigrants’ understanding of conflicts is social, economic and political inclusion, said Dr. Berns-McGown. While the study found that 57% of Canadians believe that people who have experienced conflict hold onto intercommunity tensions after coming to Canada, the good news is that a majority of those from conflict zones advocate education-based approaches to resolving differences.


“Their values do not diverge significantly from that of the general population,” said Dr. Berns-McGown. “Their views do not remain static as they begin to reframe them through Canadian lenses of human rights and rule of law.” However, she cautioned that racism and other forms of serious social exclusion risk undermining Canada’s social cohesion and security because they make it more difficult for those who left behind conflicts to change their understanding of it.

She also pointed out that the study’s focus group participants worried that inter-community dialogues might risk stirring up old problems. “That is sad, in part because it means that we are depriving ourselves of the opportunity to build trust and identify common interests and priorities. If we were to work together to promote peace ‘back home,’ we would arguably be demonstrating the ultimate value of the multiculturalism that the vast majority of us hold very dear.”

The study lists a number of recommendations to avoid the risks, including:

  • Implementing specific proposals to combat racism and exclusion in the labour market and public institutions.
  • Working towards economic integration of newcomers to Canada and establishing jobs strategies targeted towards young people.
  • Mobilizing healthcare resources to address conflict-related trauma.
  • Establishing a national education strategy related to conflict and its effects.
  • Encouraging Canadians from all sides of overseas conflicts to engage in constructive dialogue.

In her closing presentation, Tasleem Damji Budhwani, noted psychologist and leading Canadian expert on countering violent extremism, said everyone has a right to tell their stories and perceptions and be heard. “Respect for each other, and being valued, loved and safety,” are what we as a society can give each other Dr. Budhwani said. “Our diversity and inclusion give us the tools as a nation to be remarkably resilient.”


Mar 13 2014


“We need to attract the best and brightest from around the world… Apart from competing with other countries, we are now in competition with other provinces,” said Michael Coteau, Ontario’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration at the Diversity@Work conference in Toronto.

When Steam Whistle set up business in downtown Toronto in 1998, the brewery wanted a brew master with a master’s degree in the field. As no such post-secondary education program existed in North America then, it was forced to look afar for talent. It found the right person in the Czech Republic.

“If you’re going to [produce] a pilsner that competes internationally, you need to have people capable of bringing that to the table,” Steam Whistle co-founder Greg Taylor told the Globe and Mail in an interview. “[Also, immigrants] take their jobs very seriously and are very passionate, and at the end of the day that helps your bottom line.”

The need for global talent to remain competitive has only intensified in the years since. And that’s the message Michael Coteau, Ontario’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, was driving home at the Diversity@Work conference held by Skills for Change in Toronto at the end of February 2014.

“We need to attract the best and brightest from around the world to Ontario and the situation is not like before. Apart from competing with other countries, we are now in competition with other provinces,” said Minister Coteau. “The mayor of Calgary [Naheed Nenshi] was in town the other day to attract talent to his city.”

The minister said Ontario wanted to implement a new immigration strategy and intended to fully maximize the advantages newcomers and diversity bring. He pointed out that globally, seven out of the top ten brands were founded by immigrants and together these companies now employed 10 million people world-wide. “Same is the case with Fortune 100 companies and nearer home. A Bank of Montreal study found that half of Ontario’s rich are immigrants.”

The good and the bad

With one-third of Ontario’s ruling Liberal caucus being born outside the country and a quarter of them being visible minorities, “the good news is that people in government share the same stories as the immigrant population of the province,” said the minister.

But he also mentioned some bad news, namely the province and Canada underutilizing the skills of internationally-trained immigrants. A 2004 Conference Board of Canada study estimated the cost to Canada as between $3.4 – 5 billion per year in lost productivity. According to Statistics Canada, among those employed in 2006 only 24% of foreign-educated immigrants were working in the regulated profession for which they trained compared to 62% among Canadian-born.

A 2012 TD Economics study says simply closing the gap in employment rates between newcomers and native-born Canadians would mean approximately 370,000 additional people working. It is estimated that the potential increased personal income if newcomers’ skills were rewarded on par with that of native-born Canadians would top $30 billion or 2% of GDP.

Most importantly, Minister Coteau said immigration is not a one-way ticket. Newcomers to Ontario arrive with vital ties and connections to their former homelands that can be leveraged to produce economic growth and prosperity for Ontario. “We want to tap into global trade as at present only 7% of our companies are looking out for opportunities outside of the U.S. One of the keys to realizing this two-way benefit is to quickly integrate immigrants into our economy. Another key is to get the internationally trained working in their fields as soon as possible.”

He pointed to the TD Economics study that said “Newcomers complement the skills of the domestic labour force, bring new investments and innovative practices, help to open trade routes with their countries of origin and enhance cultural diversity.” Indeed, building stronger and inclusive communities that promote and value diversity would help all Ontario businesses and municipalities grow and succeed.

You don’t have to convince Steam Whistle. Since its first hiring experience 16 years ago proved to be a good one, the brewery has been proactive in employing new immigrants without Canadian training and experience. Today, its staff reflect Toronto’s much acclaimed diversity. In 2007, Steam Whistle’s inclusive hiring was recognized when it won the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council’s Immigrant Success Award for leadership and innovation in recruiting and retaining skilled immigrants.

The business case for diversity couldn’t be clearer. Listed below are a few more Good Ideas from far and near:

Feb 25 2014


On February 19, 2014, Michael Coteau, Ontario’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, proposed the province’s first ever immigration legislation. Bill 161 follows A New Direction: Ontario’s Immigration Strategy, released in November 2012.

The bill, if passed, includes parts that would allow Ontario to:

  • Select immigrants to Ontario, in collaboration with the federal government, and set target levels for the number of individuals selected for Ontario;
  • Establish a registry of employers that would be eligible to make job offers to individuals selected under selection programs;
  • Enact compliance and enforcement measures to protect people from fraudulent immigration services and to deter fraud in the immigration application process; and
  • Increase fairness for internationally trained health professionals.

The proposed legislation also includes a provision for the Minister to conduct research on permanent and temporary immigration, selection and settlement. If carried out, this would be a welcome recognition of the importance of gathering evidence to inform policy making on immigration in the province.

The government of Ontario also announced that it will redesign its Provincial Nominee Program and has called to increase the number of immigrants coming to Ontario through this program to 5,000, up from the current level of 1,300.

In addition, the bill aims for collaborative relationships with the federal government, municipalities and employers.

Valuing immigrants’ contributions to Ontario

Significantly, the proposed legislation affirms the importance of immigrants to Ontario, and the role that they play in shaping the provinces’ social, economic and cultural values. The bill also recognizes the province’s family and humanitarian obligations.

In these ways, the bill is part of the province’s effort to write its own immigration story – one that is positive, inclusive, and recognizes the contributions that immigrants and refugees make to Ontario.

The bill underwent first reading on February 19. It must now undergo review by committee, and second and third readings before possibly becoming law.


Feb 19 2014

Young boy with drawing

By Sandhya Ranjit

• “I lost them [grandparents]”
• “I feel kind of sad leaving the friends I left behind”
• “I wonder where my new home will be”

These expressions from children’s narratives, along with the drawing of a little girl who found herself in a basketball court and did not know how to play the game, are some of the findings of a qualitative study about immigrant children’s feelings and experiences of moving to Canada.

The study by Monica Valencia, a recent graduate of the Immigration and Settlement Studies program at Ryerson University, showed a mismatch between what researchers commonly see as problem areas – such as cultural clashes, ethnic identity, academic performance, and cultural brokering provided by children for their parents – and what the ten Latin American children she talked to saw as their priorities.

Titled Yo Cuento: Latin American Immigrant Children Tell Their Stories, meaning “I narrate” or “I matter” in Spanish, Valencia presented her study at a recent CERIS seminar on Immigrant Children and Families. It was based on the stories of five children from Colombia, two from Venezuela, and one each from Mexico, Bolivia and Ecuador. Equally split among boys and girls, the ages of the children ranged from nine to 11. All of them had lived in Canada for less than five years and came through a variety of immigration streams.

Valencia spent considerable time with each child to make them feel comfortable and talk freely with her. She spent time with them drawing, talking and writing. What these children expressed in their drawings is revealing. Their short narratives, as well as their discussions, helped identify the issues that children themselves are concerned with most.

Four recurring themes

“Four main themes came about from the research sessions,” says Valencia. The children missed their grandparents, were worried about their future home (as some children had moved through many countries and cities), were frustrated at not knowing English, and valued doing cultural brokering among peers.

Like adult immigrants, children too miss their extended families. “The most common stress they faced was being far away from their grandmothers,” she said. One drawing in the study shows a distressed child with his hands stretched out to reach the grandparents and family who are standing away while he is being pulled away by his mother. “Children expressed that separation from their grandmothers is devastating, painful and sad. They miss their grandmothers’ love, care, companionship and support,” says Valencia.

Moving to too many places, which required children to re-adapt in the new environment, was another cause of tension. Moving made them anxious for obvious reasons – they had to leave behind their old friends and make new ones in new locations where they struggled with loneliness and not knowing how they would be received by their new school mates. “They were preoccupied by the disruption and creation of their own social capital,” says Valencia.

Language conundrum

The children found learning English very difficult and even thought it would be impossible to acquire the language. Nonetheless, they understood the importance of English and were keen to learn it to overcome loneliness, to make friends and to do well in academics. While at it, they realized that they were losing their own language. They took initiative to overcome the “language loss” by writing to their grandparents and talking to them on the phone in their own language.

Language mediation, where they exchanged skills and support with other children, were some of the activities these children engaged in without realizing they were bartering. As one child framed it, “I teach her mathematics and she teaches me English.”

The study also highlighted the significance of cultural brokering where other children helped them with school-related issues such as assignments, introducing them to others and instructing on school protocol. The “brokers” that Valencia talked to found it a rewarding experience to provide language mediation for peers, as they saw value in passing on what they once received when they were new.

Valencia says that young immigrant children should be encouraged to identify their needs, express their feelings, and voice their opinions. “Understanding their needs and hearing directly from them about the problems they face can help us create meaningful programs to support them.”

She recommends implementing programs that encourage immigrant children to both mingle with other children and use their talents, and to be active and form friendships in a new community. Settlement services could also offer more counselling to children in multiple languages. Taking a cue from a point made by a child who felt scared about the way a school official spoke to her parents, Valencia suggests that all school personnel should be made aware of their attitude towards newcomer children and their parents.

Feb 13 2014


Binu George, an immigrant entrepreneur in Canada, who benefited from Connect Legal’s services.


Most immigrants are risk takers, ready to explore the unknown. Their entrepreneurial spirit has always played a key role in global trade and the economic success of host countries. Governments across the world are paying renewed attention to this very element in the immigrant psyche to make up for their own populace’s flagging interest in entrepreneurship.

Doug Saunders, fresh from a conference in Berlin on the future of integration in Germany where he was a speaker along with Maytree President Ratna Omidvar, has pointed out how Europe is becoming a continent full of people who want to work for somebody else. Germany, in particular, as Mr. Saunders writes, has become one of the least entrepreneurial places in the Western world. In the best-performing economy on the continent, only 5.3 per cent of Germans ever attempt to start their own business.

However, there are programs in place to counter this worrying trend.

Portugal is among the countries starting to look at immigration as a way of bringing in employers and not merely “guest” workers as in the past. As Mr. Saunders wrote, to attract newcomers who want to launch shops and factories, the Portuguese cities of Lisbon and Porto have set up a “one-stop shop” program, an idea that was featured by Maytree’s Cities of Migration initiative. And the results have been encouraging, with a 14% rise in the immigrant entrepreneurship rate.

Fading stereotype

The process of encouraging immigrant entrepreneurs is pushing aside the aging stereotype of immigrant businesses being mere purveyors of pizzas and kebabs. “Immigrants don’t just establish restaurants or cleaning companies,” says Elie El-Khouri, Project Manager of EnterpriseHelsinki, a Finnish agency that offers various classes and workshops on starting a business. Apart from Finnish, they are also offered in Swedish, English, Russian, Estonian, German and Arabic. “Now they [the immigrants] start up IT companies just like Finns.”

At the Berlin conference, Ms. Omidvar made her presentation on how Germany can reset its reputation as a destination for permanent migration. She also held a workshop to showcase good ideas like the Finnish example featured on the Cities of Migration website.

Vienna’s Mingo and Barcelona’s Activa are two other examples of city-led business counselling services helping immigrant entrepreneurs. Like Helsinki, Vienna uses language as a tool to address the unique needs of immigrant entrepreneurs. It adopted the “Let’s talk business in your mother tongue” model after earlier outreach failed to attract those with an immigrant background. The city added the Mingo Migrant Enterprises to deliver services in the language of the migrants when needed.

By not offering migrant-specific support services beyond initial reception and settlement, Barcelona has taken a different track. In the belief that what’s good for business is good for new immigrants and entrepreneurs, services in the Spanish city are provided by mainstream providers and then adapted to social diversity when needed. The Barcelona Activa service responds quickly with programs and advice to channel the entrepreneurial energy of migrants.

Immigrant successes recognized

Cities in “risk-averse” Germany are also reaching out to immigrant entrepreneurs to help promote small businesses and build a network of leaders.

Since 2010, Munich has handed out the Phoenix Prize annually to three winners who exemplify “outstanding economic achievements and social responsibility efforts of migrant enterprises.” Their stories are seen as part of Munich’s success story.

Aachen, on its part, has established a local immigrant network to develop international economic opportunities. To stay competitive in a globalized economy, the North Rhine-Westphalia city looks towards its entrepreneurs, and in particular to immigrant-run companies in knowledge-intensive sectors.

Guiding immigrant energy

Across the Atlantic, the United States has always thrived on immigrant entrepreneurship. With Ellis Island as the gateway to immigrant dreams woven into the collective conscience of the nation, New York City has always lived off the energy of its newcomers, wave after wave.

In New York, immigrants account for 49% of all self-employed workers. So when the city of New York’s Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) talks about “leveraging the City’s assets to drive growth, create jobs and improve quality of life,” they have no trouble recognizing immigrants as one of the city’s greatest resources.

Competition To Help Reach Immigrant Ventures and Entrepreneurs (THRIVE) is an immigrant entrepreneur support program launched by NYCEDC in 2011 as part of its mission to “make the city stronger.” The project generates financially sustainable business plans to address the challenges faced by immigrant entrepreneurs in New York City.

Further up the coast in Boston, immigrant-owned businesses are fueling its urban economy. The Boston Back Streets Program, designed to provide a range of land use and business assistance strategies to the industrial sector, has helped residents set up businesses that are critical in achieving greater inclusion and equality for newcomers and minority groups in the city.

Closer to home in Toronto, Canada, Connect Legal offers a Free Lawyer Matching Program to help immigrant entrepreneurs like Binu George, owner of Translife Battery Solutions Canada Ltd., navigate the legal structures of his new country.

Founded in November 2009 by commercial services lawyer Marion Annau, Connect Legal fosters entrepreneurship in the immigrant community by providing legal education workshops and pro bono commercial legal assistance to low-resource immigrant entrepreneurs.

The services provided by Connect Legal are all the more important as many immigrants are accidental entrepreneurs. A 2010 Statistics Canada study found that 33% of self-employed immigrants became self-employed due to a lack of job opportunities in the paid labour market, compared to just 20% of those self-employed who were non-immigrants.

Feb 11 2014

(The Toronto Star declared 2014 the Year of the Idea and reached out to a diverse group of community leaders and big thinkers, academics, entrepreneurs and regular folks to ask them to share their top idea to transform Toronto into a city that once again works. This is Ratna Omidvar’s Big Idea.)


Exhibitions celebrating the experience of Toronto’s many immigrant residents would boost city morale and entice tourists.

What if …

… Toronto celebrated its international status as the world’s most diverse city by showcasing the memories of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrived here over the last century from around the globe? What if, through words, photos, video, art and performance, Union Station and Pearson Airport resonated with these voices, and became the symbolic hub of our shared immigrant experience? What if on an annual basis, old and new immigrants gathered at these places with one object — a suitcase, a letter, a picture of their arrival in the city — to share with each other stories of their arrival, their endurance and their success.

Toronto is home to more immigrants than any other city in Canada. More than half of Torontonians were born outside the country, speak another language or share a different cultural geography. The story of Toronto’s success — of how this great city was made — belongs to them and deserves to be celebrated.

Union Station is being renovated. Pearson Airport is facing calls for public accountability. The rail link that connects them is being constructed. The time is right to rethink these public spaces as the vital heart of the city and remake them as a symbol of arrival and hope.

How would your big idea transform Toronto?

By seeing their lives and realities reflected back to them in these displays, Torontonians will register a greater sense of pride in and ownership of the city. For the thousands of tourists that visit Toronto annually, the displays will provide a rewarding experience, a window onto our city and an enticement to return.

How much will the idea cost?

Creating this experience would require investment, which could be achieved in innovative ways. Exhibition space could be donated by GO Transit, Greater Toronto Airports Authority and the City of Toronto. Material could be crowdsourced from residents. The cost of infrastructure and curation could be funded by corporate sponsorship, the provincial and federal governments. And the city could contribute some of the revenue from its billboard tax. After all, all orders of government would share with the city’s residents the rewards of adding a new tourist attraction that reflects back to us who we are.

(Originally published in The Toronto Star on February 5, 2014).


Jan 28 2014

The City of Toronto plans to introduce Barcelona’s anti-rumour public awareness campaign to tackle myths and misconceptions around newcomer settlement issues


  • “Newcomers tend to speak in their own languages amongst themselves at voting centres to ensure block voting.”
  • “Immigrants coming from ‘corrupt’ and non-democratic countries bring with them illegal practices to distort elections and functioning of our democratic institutions.”

These are just two of the negative opinions expressed at an Open Dialogue session held by the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) and the City of Toronto on January 16, 2014. The discussion centred on facilitating the civic participation of newcomers, including the introduction of voting rights for permanent residents who are not Canadian citizens yet.

Misconceptions and prejudices around newcomers are common across cities that attract immigrants. Barcelona is one city that decided to combat such negative attitudes with a unique approach – an anti-rumour campaign. And Toronto is now planning to follow this Spanish city.

“There is lots of misinformation floating around,” said Chris Brillinger, the City of Toronto’s Executive Director of Social Development, Finance and Administration. “We plan to build a fact-based system to give citizens good information.”

The Spanish idea will be part of the report that will be submitted in 2014 to update city council members about the implementation of the Toronto Newcomer Strategy they endorsed in 2013.

Trained anti-rumour agents

To improve co-existence among locals and new immigrants, the Barcelona city council relies on a clever public service campaign to contradict misinformation.

Among the Spanish city’s “weapons of myth destruction” (WMD) are trained anti-rumour agents who contradict wrong ideas about immigrants with facts and good humour. Working through local organizations, they spread their message while negotiating through the business of daily life in the city’s neighbourhoods.

The agents, or community facilitators, are equipped with accurate information about newcomers and are quick to address misconceptions at work, home or in the street. So, when someone complains that “subsidized apartments go mainly to foreigners,” an agent can quickly interject: “Today only one in 20 immigrants receives such a benefit.”

One of the more unusual approaches used to publicize its message is a comic book series about Rosita, an elderly Spanish woman who lives with Blanca, a young Peruvian caregiver. Each volume explores a theme. For example, the pair’s visit to the doctor aims to dispel the myth that immigrants overuse or have easier access to health and social services. A “Did you know?” section then provides official data about the subject.

Handling implicit bias

Toronto City staff could also find inspiration from Botkyrka. This Swedish city’s intercultural strategy aims to incorporate a non-discriminatory and intercultural approach as a core competency for its managers and employees.

Disrespect and discrimination faced by newcomers to Toronto when they try to access city services was one of the main issues that emerged at the Open Dialogue. Adapting the Swedish idea could mitigate this problem.

Botkyrka offers its staff “intercultural dilemma workshops” where participants can analyze situations of conflict and learn how to overcome them. The intent is to break down stereotypes and accept differences while developing “intercultural intelligence” to respond appropriately to implicit bias in new or unexpected situations.

For more stories and winning strategies that promote immigrant integration, diversity and inclusion, visit Cities of Migration. Cities of Migration is a Maytree initiative that showcases good ideas and local innovation from cities around the world.


Jan 14 2014

A multi-generational family

Over the holidays, when you may have been a bit unplugged, figuratively and literally, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) were their busy selves.

While both departments have tweaked existing programs, expect more changes in the months to come.

Here is what has changed for now:

Family reunification program reopens

The Parent and Grandparent (PGP) program was reopened on January 2 by CIC to allow Canadians with parents or grandparents overseas to apply for them to become permanent residents in this country. As the cap of 5,000 complete applications was reached within a month’s time, new intake into the program will again pause until next year. “By the end of 2014, we expect to welcome an additional 20,000 parents and grandparents to Canada,” CIC said in a media release. The program will re-open in January 2015 and details will be made known closer to that date.

The program was halted in 2011 to clear an eight-year backlog that had topped 165,000 applications. During the moratorium, CIC was able to slash the backlog by half. By 2015, the backlog is expected to be about 43,000 with wait times of about 18 months.

Typically, CIC had received about 40,000 parent and grandparent applications each year, with about 20,000 being the actual number of people admitted annually through this channel.

“The modernized PGP program will mean faster processing times and shorter waits,” Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said in October. “It will also ensure that families have the financial means to support those they sponsor, while also protecting the interests of taxpayers.”

While the admission level in 2014 would remain around 20,000 people, the intake of new applications was capped at 5,000 to let in about 9,000 people. CIC had said that incomplete forms will be returned and will not count towards the cap. Applications received after the cap was reached will be returned to the sponsors.

The new system also has tougher rules for sponsors:

  • A 30% increase in the sponsor’s Minimum Necessary Income (MNI). A family unit of two persons, including the applicants, will need to show an income for 2012 of at least $36,637. This amount increases according to the size of the family unit. It goes up to $77,879 for seven persons. For each additional person thereafter, $7,929 will need to be added.
  • Only Canada Revenue Agency Notices of Assessment will be accepted as proof of income and sponsors will be required to provide them for a three-year period, instead of just one year.
  • Sponsors have to keep an immigrating parent or grandparent off social assistance for 20 years – double the previous requirement.

Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland was quoted in media reports as saying that while the ten-year parent and grandparent super visas will probably dampen some of the demand for full-on immigration applications, the annual demand for PGP visas is typically for around 30,000 people and vastly outstrips availability. “The good news is that processing times will likely be under 12 months. The bad news [because of the demand] is that … in 2014 we’re going to see more tears of pain than tears of joy.”

New rules to Temporary Foreign Worker Program

New rules also went into effect on New Year’s Eve as part of ongoing changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

The new rules are:

  • For a period of six years after temporary foreign workers (TFW) are employed, government officials do not need warrants to conduct surprise workplace inspections, interview the workers and demand documentation from employers.
  • Employers will be required to keep their paperwork for six years and ensure that their workplace is free of abuse.
  • Employers found to be breaking the rules could be put on a public “blacklist,” barred from hiring temporary foreign workers for a period of two years.
  • Employers in Canada’s sex industry will also no longer be able to apply to bring foreign workers. This follows a related change made in 2012 when the government began issuing negative Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) to all employers linked to the sex trade. (An LMO may be required to prove the need to hire a TFW over a Canadian one.)

However, the government dropped the rule that prevented employers who had criminal convictions in human trafficking, sexually assaulting an employee, or causing the death of an employee from applying for workers under the TFWP. It said in the Canada Gazette that the provision was dropped because it was “too rigid and cumbersome” to be enforced, adding that other amendments have been introduced to protect foreign workers and ensure a safe workplace.

Minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney has plans for a new round of changes within the next two or three months, including the “likelihood” of a new fast-track system for high-skill positions.

In the weeks to come, also look out for the proposed Expression of Interest application system and changes to the refugee intake rules, provincial nominees quota, and the Canadian Experience Class program.

[This post was last updated on February 4, 2014] 

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