The federal government doesn't know how many Syrian refugees have found work since landing in Canada, Immigration Minister John McCallum admitted on Thursday, five months after the newcomers started arriving.
Mr. McCallum told a House of Commons that the government is trying to obtain the jobs numbers for Syrian refugees.
"We don't have a precise number for what percentage of refugees are in employment the way we have a precise number for what proportion has permanent housing. We are working to get those numbers from the settlement organizations," he said.
Based on his conversations with industry groups, the minister said, he knows that a "good number" of Syrian refugees have been hired, but could not give an exact number.
Speaking to The Globe and Mail after the committee meeting, Mr. McCallum could not say when the government will have the jobs data for Syrian refugees, adding that it's harder to get those numbers than housing numbers. The government has provided consistent updates on the housing situation for Syrians, saying on Thursday that 98 per cent of government-assisted refugees have found permanent housing.
Syrian refugees receive income support during their first year in Canada, after which they are in the same situation as other Canadians and permanent residents. Mr. McCallum said that while he hopes that a large majority of Syrian refugees have found work within their first year, not all of them will.
"We're talking about people who begin without a word of English or French, people who often have little education, people who may have scars from their difficult previous experiences, so we're not going to have 100 per cent with jobs after one year."
Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the government has a responsibility to ensure that the long-term integration needs of Syrian refugees are met, including their full participation in the Canadian economy.
"Part of him [Mr. McCallum] not knowing how many people have found jobs leads me to believe that they don't have a fulsome understanding of what some of the barriers might be to acquiring employment, such as language training services," Ms. Rempel said.
Mr. McCallum also revealed on Thursday that overseas visa offices still have not received all of the additional staff the government promised to deploy more than a month ago. On April 7, the government committed to boost staffing levels at Canadian visa offices in Jordan and Lebanon to help expedite the processing of privately sponsored Syrian refugee applications.
"There are several additional staff already over there," he said. "We've definitely made a significant beginning, but we're still working on the time frame and the precise number [of additional staff]."
About 500 government staff were assigned to overseas offices during the height of the government's efforts to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February. Mr. McCallum said the government will deploy less than 500 this time around.
The move is part of the government's effort to process all privately sponsored Syrian refugee applications submitted by March 31 by the end of 2016 or the beginning of 2017. Mr. McCallum said the government is still on track to meet that deadline, as well as its pledge to resettle 25,000 government-assisted refugees by the end of this year.
For NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan, the government's delay in deploying additional staff overseas shows it hasn't planned out its Syrian refugee resettlement plan. "It's disjointed. They're just flying by the seat of their pants as they are trying to meet the targets they have self-imposed," Ms. Kwan said.
Former Toronto mayor John Sewell, who is highly involved in the city's Syrian sponsorship community, said he is beginning to lose faith in the government's commitment to resettle the privately sponsored Syrian refugees on time. "If you don't have the staff … then you're going to be processing very few people," he said.
To date, 17,300 government-assisted Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada, according to Mr. McCallum. A government website said 9,400 privately sponsored refugees have arrived and 2,300 have come through a blend of both the government and private systems.