Immigrant Services in B.C.

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By Sheena Sproule

Immigrating to a new country can be a serious challenge, especially if you want to live away from the noise and crowds of Canada’s biggest cities. Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver receive thousands of new immigrants every year and that means they have strong communities, resources and funding to support greater numbers of immigrants to Canada. Still, every year a growing number of newcomers decide to move to smaller cities and towns in Canada and for many, that means a move out west.

British Columbia is consistently the third largest recipient of newcomers across Canada’s provinces and territories. In B.C., immigrants make up over 27% of the province’s overall population. As a result, many smaller cities and towns in B.C. have small but strong cultural communities to support newcomers when they arrive.

One of the most important considerations when deciding where to live is where you can find employment opportunities. The Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation provides resources to newcomers looking to settle in B.C. and according to their estimates, job opportunities for newcomers are on the rise in every region of B.C. except Vancouver. If this is surprising news, remember that larger communities can mean more competition for jobs and other resources, while in smaller communities, many industries are looking for experts to fill vacant positions.

One of the drawbacks of living in a smaller community or province is that the government doesn’t have the funding to provide the same support for newcomers that exists in cities like Toronto and Montreal. However, there are still programs in place to help newcomers improve their language skills, find jobs that match their experience, and develop new skills so they can compete in the job market.

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell launched WelcomeBC in 2007. WelcomeBC is a strategic plan by the BC government to unite all departments of newcomer services together, which, according to the WelcomeBC website, includes “settlement, immigration and labour market services under a single service umbrella.” WelcomeBC used to be a part of the province’s Regional and Economic Skills Development department but now is part of the Ministry of Social Development, along with EmbraceBC, a program designed to promote and support multiculturalism in BC.

WelcomeBC offers access to different services for newcomers, and information about English language courses, employment, health, and education services. From a strategic standpoint, WelcomeBC also helps the province plan for the labour market by bringing skilled newcomers together with employers who need them. WelcomeBC works with employers to streamline the process for hiring newcomers to Canada and helping them qualify for Landed Immigrant or Permanent Resident Statuses. And WelcomeBC provides employers with incentives and assistance to hire newcomers, as well as granting funds to some of the service agencies discussed below. For more information on WelcomeBC, you can find their website at or EmbraceBC at

The International Credential Evaluation Service (ICES) is offered by B.C. Technical Institute (BCIT) International, funded in part by the Province of B.C., and offers a fee-for-service assessment of your credentials. Employers looking to hire highly educated people may not know how your credentials compare to those of other Canadians, and in these cases, this service can provide them with the information they need to decide if you are right for the job. But before paying, you should make sure that the job you want will require assessment, or else you might pay for something you will not need.

What if you find out you need to upgrade the skills you have for the job you want in B.C.? The Skills Connect for Immigrants program helps skilled immigrants obtain B.C. jobs that build on their pre-arrival skills, training and experience. It is an employment bridging program that assess qualifications, provides job counselling and planning, skills upgrades and mentoring. The program claims to provide a 50% increase in the likelihood of newcomers finding a job that matches their skills and experience. Skills Connect is funded through provincial and federal government, including Citizenship and Immigration Canada under the Canada-British Columbia Immigration Agreement and other programs.

Just as in bigger cities, good English language skills are very important. The Province of British Columbia has set up free, year-round English Language Services for Adults (ELSA) classes throughout the province. You qualify if you are a newcomer to British Columbia, over the age of seventeen, and have your Permanent Resident status. If you are a naturalized Canadian citizen or a refugee claimant, you can still qualify for free ELSA classes but only outside of Metro Vancouver. ELSA can also provide inexpensive childcare for adult English students. In order to see if you qualify and to have your English language skills assessed, contact your local Immigrant Settlement Agency.

If you don’t qualify for free classes with ELSA, the B.C. government suggests taking language classes from a free volunteer tutor with ESL Settlement Assistance Program, which can be found in many rural communities in B.C. ESL programs are available at colleges and universities but they can be expensive. While you might not qualify for free language classes, all B.C. public school provide free ESL classes to school-age children.

The B.C. government does have one program that can allow newcomers planning to settle in BC permanently to get their Permanent Resident Status through the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) fast-tracked system. It is called The British Columbia Provincial Nominee Program (BC PNP), and it is open to skilled and/or experienced workers and their families. In order to qualify for the program, a newcomer must have experience owning their own business and intend to invest in a business or manage one in B.C. The other way to qualify is to have a job offer in B.C.from an eligible B.C. employer who applies with you. In addition to applying for PNP, skilled workers planning to settle in British Columbia may also apply for permanent resident status in the federal Skilled Worker or Canadian Experience Classes. More information is available at or the CIC website,

British Columbia has a lot to offer skilled works and their families and can help newcomers enjoy some of the most beautiful places to live in Canada through the assistance and programs they offer. The pace of life is slower than the big eastern cities but the people here still value diversity, hard work and strong communities.

Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta also have a lot to offer newcomers.

Alberta is known to have one of the highest number of incoming immigrants in Canada, after B.C., in part because they have a lot of job opportunities. But what you might not know is that the more rural provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba are very eager to entice newcomers to Canada. Both have made statements to the federal government that they need more skilled workers and they are looking to recent immigrants to meet their needs.

Manitoba has a Provincial Nominee Program that is similar in many ways to the B.C. PNP. They are developing province-wide free or subsidized English Language Services for Adults classes as well as employment bridging programs, all to encourage newcomers to settle.

In 2009-2010, Saskatchewan invested an extra 2.69 million dollars to develop these programs and strategies for encouraging newcomers to settle there. Saskatchewan also has a Immigrant Nominee Program (SINP) that fast-tracks newcomers to obtain their Landed Immigrant status based on whether an applicant’s skills and experience fit the needs of the province.

Read future issues for more in-depth stories on services in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. For now, if you want more informationon the services and programs each province provides, contact the following:

Saskatchewan Immigration Services Division
Tel: (Canada 001) 306.798.7467 (in Regina)

Manitoba Labour and Immigration
Tel: (Canada 001) 204-945-6300 (Winnipeg)

Alberta Immigration
Tel: (Canada 001) 780-427-6419 (Edmonton)

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