What is Immigrant Access Counselling (IAC)?
The Calgary Immigrant Educational Society (CIES) has received funding from Alberta Labour to develop a research and pilot project titled Immigrant Access Counselling (IAC), which will offer accessible, online assistance to newcomers. This project seeks to explore and evaluate new ways of providing underserved newcomers, specifically naturalized citizens and Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP) candidates, with much needed information, referrals, and counselling support.
While Canada possesses a robust scope of settlement programming, certain categories of newcomers still face significant barriers in accessing such programs. Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) provides support to permanent residents and refugees for their settlement, employment, language and integration needs. However, newcomers with a different immigration status are often not eligible for federally funded settlement programs.
One such group of newcomers are naturalized citizens. With the acquisition of Canadian citizenship, they obtain the same rights as Canadian-born individuals, such as the right to vote, to serve in the government, and to seek elected office. However, they continue to face numerous challenges including language proficiency, limited access to affordable housing, lack of affordable childcare, the challenges of transportation, and acceptance by local residents. Furthermore, many lack the networking and technical skills that could help them find employment. Although they are accepted as new Canadians, these individuals and their families can still struggle to find a meaningful place in Canadian society.
Similar to naturalized citizens, individuals under the AINP are not eligible for federally-funded IRCC settlement services. AINP nominees are temporary residents on a pathway to permanency, and as such, they require access to settlement services and information. An important number of AINP are low or semi-skilled workers, who may not have the networks and knowledge to address their settlement concerns. Central to the empowerment of these individuals is immigrant information, referral, and counselling services. Many AINP individuals struggle to find these services or do not have the ability to access them due to conflicting work schedules. Providing access to these services would significantly improve the settlement experiences of AINP nominees and their families.
In addition, recent data show that newcomers increasingly prefer to obtain settlement information via internet sites. However, immigrant serving agencies in Calgary have yet to develop online tools that provide access to settlement, referrals, and counselling services on a par with their in-person offerings. Currently, CIES is one of only two non-profit immigrant service providers offering live, on-demand reception, information support and referral assistance.
The IAC project aims to connect newcomers with services that will mediate their much-needed integration process, by connecting them with a settlement coordinator through an online chat and video platform. In this way, the project will explore the feasibility of delivering settlement counseling via online platforms, especially for newcomers who are unable to receive in-person settlement counselling and those who come from an underserved group, such as the AINP nominees and naturalized citizens.
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