Online Chat Support for Newcomers During COVID-19
Immigrant Access Counselling (IAC)
Recently, there has been increased interest in using online platforms to support newcomers in managing stressors to their mental wellness. The COVID-19 pandemic has only highlighted the importance of making settlement services available remotely. The internet can remove access barriers for newcomers who otherwise may be unable to access in-person services, for example due to work schedules, caring for family members, the time and cost of transportation, health and mobility issues, among others. Immigrant-serving organizations regularly employ the internet to reach out to their clients and provide information and services. They do this by using different tools available, such as newsletters, forums, discussion groups, virtual sessions and fairs, and self-directed or guided online courses and webinars.
From September 2019 to August 2020, our research team conducted a study aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of the Immigrant Access Counselling (IAC) platform, an online chat created and piloted by The Immigrant Education Society (TIES) with the goal of providing newcomer clients with settlement services.
We have created the following videos to share our findings with the broader community of researchers, service providers, and policy-makers. This project has been made possible with the financial support of:
- Cesar Suva, Director, Research & Program Development, The Immigrant Education Society
- Elizabeth Pando, Research Coordinator, The Immigrant Education Society
- Anusha Kassan, Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, and Special Education, The University of British Columbia; Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary
- Walaa Katoue, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary
What is Immigrant Access Counselling (IAC)?
The Immigrant Education Society (TIES) 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, Refugee 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, TIES is one of only two not-for-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 counselling 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.
Funded / Supported By