Immigrant pre-arrival services are wise investment, expert says

New funding highlights economic benefits of entrepreneur newcomers, policy adviser says

Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen meets with new Canadian immigrants at the Vancouver head office of SUCCESS on January 3 | Photo: Chuck Chiang

The pre-arrival services Canada provides to approved immigrants such as those supported by Vancouver non-profit group SUCCESS are a significant – and often overlooked –catalyst to the Canadian economy that should be further supported.

That is the view of prominent Vancouver-based immigration lawyer and policy adviser Richard Kurland, who called pre-arrival services “the special sauce” that enhances the economic benefits immigrants make to Canada as opposed to more muted gains in countries like the United States, Great Britain and Australia.

“They don’t offer services to the same degree Canada does,” Kurland said, noting that Canada has significant availability of pre-accreditation procedures to allow immigrants in fields like nursing to start working in their trained areas as soon as they arrive. “In the old way, it took immigrants at least a year to find a job, learn and settle in. Well, you don’t need that if you do all those things prior to arrival, so you just saved the government the costs of holding families together for their first year in Canada.”

Earlier this month, federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen announced SUCCESS will get $22.4 million in federal funds in the next four years. The organization is one of four pre-arrival immigrant service providers selected by Ottawa to receive the funding as part of a $113 million package.

Hussen focused on the program’s economic benefits – the ability of immigrant professionals to get their credentials certified for work in Canada before arrival, and to acclimatize earlier to Canadian culture, language and services after landing in Canada.

Hussen cited Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) CEO David Labistour as an example of an immigrant who was able to bring economic growth to B.C. Labistour, who immigrated to Canada from South Africa in 1999, is slated to step down from his MEC post this summer after 11 years at the helm – a time in which the co-op nearly doubled in membership, from 2.7 million to 5.1 million. MEC has 2,500 employees, with 350 of them working at the company’s Vancouver head office.

“Many of these types of successes can be found right here in Vancouver and communities right across the country,” Hussen said. “By providing newcomers with vital information and support while they are still abroad, they’re more likely to have realistic expectations of their new lives in Canada, and they’re more likely to be better prepared.”

A Statistics Canada research blog last August indicated that after four to 10 years of adjusting to life in Canada, immigrant entrepreneurs tend to have business ownership rates that outpace those of Canadian-born citizens – 5.8% versus 4.8% in 2010. The study, however, also showed immigrants were more likely to be self-employed due to a lack of job opportunities.

For immigrants in the business-class category, as many as 25.1% are business owners.

“It’s not just regular immigrants, but the refugees, as well,” noted SUCCESS CEO Queenie Choo, herself an immigrant. “Studies have shown that many newcomers, including refugees, are very entrepreneurial in nature. They want to set up their business and bring new jobs here, and that helps us grow the economy in our country.”

Choo said her organization will begin receiving funding in April and has already started planning to expand its staff in markets like China, where more information providers will be hired to conduct face-to-face sessions with immigrants whose applications have already been approved but who have not yet entered Canada. SUCCESS also plans to boost online resources to reach approved candidates for immigration that staff cannot reach in person.

SUCCESS volunteer Huang Lingling, who moved to Canada in 2016, did not go through pre-arrival services. She said those services might have allowed her to stay in the legal field, for which she was trained, had she gone through the accreditation and acclimatization process earlier.

“I think it would have really helped,” Huang said. “People here, I think, don’t realize how long the immigration process can take. So if someone had the chance to get in touch with groups like SUCCESS and pre-arrival services, it would be a big help in getting these new immigrants to contribute quickly.”

One of the keys for Canada’s ability to maximize the economic impact of immigrants and refugees, Kurland said, is decades’ worth of internal data about immigrant communities collected by the Privy Council Office. The availability of data, which required an investment of federal taxpayers’ dollars that governments in the U.S. and Europe did not make comparable commitments to in their own jurisdictions, allows Ottawa to effectively “mine” the immigrant application field for the candidates with the best chance to help strengthen Canada’s economy, as well as identify regulation shortfalls that may be hampering job creation or integration.

“It’s that simple: get the data, analyze it, pay to give people not here yet a benefit and reap the cascade of economic rewards when they arrive,” Kurland said, noting Ottawa was able to work on pre-arrival accreditation and business acclimatization after seeing a need reflected in the data. “Someone will have to pay for that data … and you can justify spending taxpayers’ money on this if you have fact-based, empirical data to show what happens when you do it versus what happens when you don’t do it.”

He added that immigrants and refugees may also be uniquely equipped for success in the new Canadian economic model, where a “new nimbleness” is required to adapt to changing labour, trade and market environments. Those are aspects of the economy that Canada cannot afford to ignore – and new Canadian entrepreneurs may be the best way to improve Canada’s performance on those fronts, Kurland said.

“What’s new now is just-in-time inventory and labour. All of those things are ideal, fertile grounds for newcomers to Canada because they are already hard-wired to change. They just changed their entire lives, and so they can make the necessary compromises, fast decisions and hit the commitment button faster – because they are prepared to assume these risks. And with risks come rewards.”

Since 2008, SUCCESS has served about 14,800 clients through such programs. Canadian pre-arrival settlement services are provided in person in China, India and the Philippines, and a Francophone pilot program is available in Morocco.