Immigrant data points to challenges getting settled in Waterloo Region

June 18, 2015

By Johanna Weidner, Waterloo Region Record |

Recent immigrants to Waterloo Region are twice as likely as Canadian-born residents to have a university degree, yet they’re also more likely to be unemployed and live in poverty.

Newly released fact sheets on immigrants to this region reveal some of the challenges they face in getting settled and secure in their new home, including finding good jobs.

“There’s an imbalance between the skill and education people bring with them and the opportunities they’re able to access when they come here,” said Tara Bedard, manager of Immigration Partnership.

The fact sheets, given to a regional committee meeting earlier this week, were prepared by Region of Waterloo Public Health in collaboration with the Immigration Partnership, a group of more than 100 organizations and community members focused on supporting and integrating immigrants.

New immigrants are twice as likely as Canadian-born residents to be unemployed, and when they do find work, it’s often lower paying. The median income for recent immigrants is about one-third lower than for all of Waterloo Region, and on average it takes more than 20 years of living in Canada for their income to reach the median.

“It takes a very long time of working really hard to get to that point,” Bedard said.

The five fact sheets — covering topics including who’s arriving, languages they speak, demographics, employment, income and health — hold a trove of data for community planners and organizations.

“The information that is contained in the fact sheets is really valuable as a community planning tool,” Bedard said.

And, she added, there is good reason to make sure the community offers the services and programs newcomers need and want. The region’s immigrant population is expected to climb from the current 22 per cent to as high as 30 in the next 20 years.

“It’s a significant portion of the population. It’s worth looking at in detail who’s here,” said Bedard, adding the figures don’t include those with temporary status.

She said it’s only wise to ensure the community is nurturing that “amazing resource” of primarily young, skilled immigrants.

“There’s a lot of potential that exists within the community,” Bedard said.

Yet the data show they’re struggling to get work and access services.

“How do we really open up and make it easier for people who are here?” Bedard asked.

The languages spoken by new immigrants reflect a shift in where they’re coming from, compared to the historical draw from European countries in the region’s early years. Now the top languages spoken among newcomers are Arabic, Chinese languages and Spanish.

“The face of immigration is changing,” Bedard said.

The overall picture looks positive for immigrant health, with no significant difference in most indicators from Canadian-born residents. But, Bedard cautioned, they tend to have better health and healthier habits when they arrive, and that deteriorates after being in Canada for a while.

“When they arrive here, their health standards are actually higher and they’ve been coming down,” Bedard said.

As demographics change in this region and Canada with an aging population and slowing natural population growth, she said it’s vital to make immigrants feel welcome to ensure they stay, as well as attract more.

“The data is clear,” Bedard said. “Pretty soon all net population growth comes from immigration.”

Waterloo Region, and Canada, will be competing with other places for those immigrants.

“I think there’s a real need to be smart about how we position ourselves as a destination of choice for newcomers.” , Twitter: @WeidnerRecord

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