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Newcomers: the immigrant experience in 2011

For a number of years now, the immigrant population in the Humboldt region has been expanding rapidly.

For a number of years now, the immigrant population in the Humboldt region has been expanding rapidly.
Local manufacturing companies began hiring workers from other countries over five years ago; since then, more and more immigrants have begun to call this region home.
Last year, the Humboldt Regional Newcomer Centre (HRNC) was opened in order to assist any and all immigrants to this area, and since their opening, they have recorded over 1,000 service interactions.
The point of their centre, noted Janine Hart, HRNC manager, is to act as a signpost for newcomers.
"They come here and we refer them to the right body or organization," she said. "We're their first stop in the area."
The list of countries accessing the HRNC seems to be growing every day. People from Israel, Ghana, France, Uruguay, China, Vietnam, Mexico, the United States and Pakistan have passed through their doors, as have those from other parts of Canada who need some assistance finding their way around here.
"We're seeing more East Indian newcomers, though not directly from overseas. They may be moving in to set up a business or take over an existing business," Hart said.
But right now, most immigrants to this region are primarily coming from the Philippines, reported Hart.
"That's probably the highest population in the region," she said, "followed closely by those coming from Germany."
Some companies are choosing to hire workers from the Philippines because most are of the Catholic faith, which gives them a faith community in the Humboldt region, Hart indicated - a base which they can stand on to make this their home.
A few years ago, many companies were hiring staff from Ukraine, including Schulte Industries in Englefeld.
But while the HRNC still deals with a high percentage of people from Ukraine, Hart noted, "they're the newcomers who have been here two to three years."
Immigration from South Africa, once quite high in this region, again due to hiring in the manufacturing industries, has also slowed down, Hart said.
"I think what we'll see from these countries is family members sponsored. We will see a second wave of immigrants coming in," she predicted.
The provincial immigrant worker program is what is drawing the highest percentage of newcomers to this area, Hart said, but they are also see a large number of people moving into this region from other parts of Canada.
"They may have been in Canada for three years, they have their permanent residency, and are looking for different employment," she explained.
Those coming through the government worker program are primarily involved in the manufacturing trades, like welding. But the hospitality industry is also quite big now, Hart noted.
One of the major challenges being faced by immigrants coming to this area is having their skills recognized here.
"One of the main things lacking is foreign qualifications recognition by governing bodies and employers," Hart said. "We have very educated newcomers entering the Saskatchewan workforce at very low level employment because it takes time to get their qualifications recognized," she added.
There are immigrants who are engineers in their former countries, those who carry masters degrees and doctorates, veterinarians, teachers and nurses. Yet very few are working in their fields in Canada.
In order to find work in their fields, some have to upgrade their English language skills, or simply persevere.
Getting foreign qualifications recognized more readily in Canada is something many are working on, across the country and at the HRNC.
"We have had some great success stories," Hart said. "We are going to see more and more of the newcomers going back into their original fields," she feels.
Some, like herself, will transfer their skills to other areas to find work.
Hart was actually a lecturer in her native England, a specialist in early years. Now, she's running this centre for newcomers. Newcomers like herself will face a choice, she indicated.
"They will transfer their skills, find a community where they can settle in and decide whether to pursue getting their degree recognized or if they are happy where they are," she said.
Another barrier, and one that is linked to newcomers finding work in their field, is language.
The newcomers who are coming with employers through a government program need to have some level of English, so they get here knowing some basics, Hart said. However, most do access language classes at some point as well.
For these workers, they tend to have enough English to do the job they are originally hired for, but not enough to move up the ranks. So they take classes to improve their language skills, and improve their earning potential at the same time.
At the HRNC, they have only worked with two families who came here knowing no English at all, she said - one was from Vietnam, and the other, Ukraine.
The HRNC helped those families access English classes through Carlton Trail Regional College, Hart explained.
They are also looking into helping youth with language barriers, as there are not sufficient bilingual teachers in this area.
Another common barrier immigrants face is isolation. They are missing that sense of community they perhaps once felt in their home country.
The simplest thing people in communities that are welcoming immigrants can do is to simply say hello, Hart indicated, and ask them questions about where they came from and what their stories are.
"They have interesting stories to tell," Hart assured.
"Sometimes, (people) in host communities are not quite sure what to talk about, so they say nothing," Hart said.
Newcomers, for their part, are unsure of their place in the community, Hart said, and so need the community to reach out.
"It's a two-way street, integration," Hart noted.
She advised that communities keep reaching out to immigrants, to make them feel welcome.
"The worst thing for a newcomer is when no one speaks to you, they just look at you," Hart said. "Be interested in where these people came from, in their stories. It's great to ask. The worst thing a community can do is not to speak to them."
Accessing a driver's licence can also be difficult for newcomers. Though it depends on their country of origin, the majority of newcomers have to retake their road test when they arrive here, Hart noted. The HRNC can help those needing to take an adult driver's training course access that service.
Quite a huge barrier for newcomers is credit history, Hart added.
Finding adequate and affordable housing is difficult for many in the province right now, but when you don't have a credit history in Canada, it can be even more so.
"A lot of our clients are under-housed," Hart said.
And it's not that they can't afford to pay rent or purchase a property, she added.
"It's that, because of the countries they come from, they have no credit history. So they have to start (building one here)."
Temporary foreign workers, she added, cannot even start building a credit history until they get their permanent residency. That makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to purchase a house, or a car.
They can get loans, Hart noted, but at a much higher interest rate.

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