Canadian Chamber of Commerce Delegates Says Refugees is Not a Business Issue

Fredericton, NB – At today’s Canadian Chamber of Commerce annual convention and federal government policy debates, in Fredericton, New Brunswick, the Surrey Board of Trade asked the 450 chambers/boards of trades in Canada to support a federal government ask to extend their support of refugee families from one year to three years and enhance education and career planning supports for refugees.

“It was very disappointing that the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Immigration Committee stated that refugees was a social issue and not a business issue – and the final vote by the delegates also indicated a non-support of the Surrey Board of Trade Refugee policy,” said Anita Huberman, CEO, Surrey Board of Trade.

The issue is that in 2016, after much debate, Canada accepted approximately 40,000 Syrian refugees through a mix of public and private sponsorship programs. Surrey became home to nearly half of those arriving in BC: 44% of 1,700, up 23% of all refugees combined the previous year. Approximately 60% are under the age of 18.

The concern is that the federal support for publicly sponsored refugees is only for one year. Refugees then move to provincial funding, which in BC is much less with the average family losing roughly $348/month. Funding varies based on size of family and housing needs, as well as health, language instruction and employment services. However, the provincial funding, though similar in base amount, does not include transportation allowances and housing supplements, leading to a substantial decrease in support especially in the tight housing /rental market of the Lower Mainland.

As reported in the Globe and Mail, December 4: The B.C. government said it is continuing to look at the issue. The province said its supports for low-income individuals can include subsidized housing and child-care subsidies. It said refugees who are eligible for disability assistance could also receive more support than they did under the federal government.

Employment and English language training is essential for economic integration, however, federally funded and waitlists are long. BC currently has the highest waitlist with over 5,000 permanent residents looking for spaces, the majority in Surrey and this prior to the influx of Syrian refugees.

A number of the Syrian refugees have various education backgrounds such as engineering, or other professional credentials.

Most of the refugees do not speak English, have varying levels of trauma and medical needs, and are learning how to adapt to Canadian society. Their day-to-day settlement needs – finding appropriate housing, furniture, appropriate clothing, food and living costs, enrolling children in school, figuring out the public transit system, finding their way to medical appointments, and finding social and emotional support networks – takes the majority of their time in the first year. In addition, the emotional toll of having left loved ones behind has an understandable impact on their resettlement efforts. Service providers have done their best to accommodate, but wait lists for services, English Language training, basic job-skills training are long.

The Surrey Board of Trade is the co-chair of the Surrey Local Immigrant Partnership (LIP) coalition of local service providers focusing on the needs of new immigrants and refugees. “We are the only LIP coalition in B.C. with business at the table in a leadership capacity.”

Progress is slow to move Syrians off supports and in to stable employment.

“What’s needed is not just a discussion of how to facilitate immigration—of refugees and others—but how to ensure our new residents integrate swiftly into the economy.”

“But all of this requires a shift in thinking. Done properly, bringing refugees into our country isn’t about charity. It’s about investing in the future of business —both theirs and ours.”