New Canadians

New Canadians

Between August and October 2011, Samara spoke to disengaged Canadians across the country in a series of focus groups. The complete findings from this study are published in Samara’s report, The Real Outsiders: Politically Disengaged Views on Politics and Democracy. These briefs are designed to augment The Real Outsiders, by providing greater detail and insight about the conversations in each focus group.

English Speaking Women in Quebec | Lower Income Canadians | Urban Aboriginal Peoples | Francophone Women in Quebec | New Canadians | Less Educated Youth | Rural Canadians

No Welcome Mat

Focus Group Profile: In Vancouver, B.C. Samara sat down with a group of eight new Canadians, aged 19 to 51 years. The longest period of full citizenship within the group was 4.5 years – three individuals said they would receive their citizenship in the next twelve months. Most participants had been living in Canada for five to seven years after arriving from parts of East Asia and South Asia; in addition, there were two participants from Europe. Many had school-aged children at home, though the youngest was a university student. Almost all group members had some university education or were university graduates. 

Each year, thousands of aspiring citizens who arrived as immigrants, became permanent residents, passed the citizenship exams, and became full citizens of Canada. Consequently, before they even have full voting rights, new Canadians have been observing and interacting with the Canadian government and its political system for years. The experiences shared by the new Canadians in this focus group tell a broader story of how quickly they learned that government and politics were not really interested in their concerns. In the absence of a real ‘welcome mat’ for political engagement, they preferred to work around government where possible. In short, government and politics are viewed as irrelevant.

Many new Canadians in this focus group, for example, said finding a job for themselves or family members was their greatest concern.  Employment agencies, funded by government grants, can help prepare a resume or conduct general job searches.  But as one participant noted, they lack the necessary connections within different industries to connect newcomers who are typically without contacts.  Another wished that immigrants were better advised by the Canadian government prior to arrival of the importance of Canadian work experience in the job market, and what it entails.

Not surprisingly, then, the job hunt wasn’t always successful. One woman applying for Employment Insurance found that Service Canada was “not helpful.” Another was frustrated when she applied for her citizenship test, but could not find out from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) if they had received her application: “it is difficult to contact them.” In short, they come to accept that government doesn’t really work for them.

Instead, participants spoke of relying on private head hunting firms, consultants, Internet sites, and personal networks for assistance rather. Nonetheless, many noted that credential recognition remains a major barrier for them. It is here that government could play a more constructive role in their lives, yet the ongoing struggles they describe belie any progress on the issue. One woman described working as a teacher in Hong Kong, but upon arriving in Canada, could only find work as a nanny. To obtain Canadian certification requires a significant investment of funds and time, she noted. Others echoed this experience, describing their friends who, “when they come here, their degrees have no value… you have to again start from scratch.” This reality doesn’t make much sense in their minds given the Canadian government often approved their immigration applications on the basis of their education and skills.  

As with other groups in the study, one of other barriers the focus group identified was the challenge of getting substantive responses to their questions: “it is easy to get basic information, to know what the politicians are, how it works, but if you want actual answers, it’s hard.” In the end, new Canadians demonstrated little interest in engaging with the political system, preferring to be “more interested in our own small lives – family, friends, and the community.”

Certainly the new citizens expressed their appreciation for their adopted country, but described their journey as challenging after experiencing gaps in government service and the absence of their issues on the political agenda, like accreditation. These negative experiences may be related to how new Canadians conceive of their own democratic role.

Many understood this role as a relatively narrow one focused on voting. There was some willingness to be more involved at the local level, but less so at the provincial and federal levels. Other responses were vague. One man described his described his role simply as a “responsibility” to be “a good citizen.”