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How welcoming are communities across Canada to immigrants and refugees who come here seeking to build new lives? A group of researchers have designed a new tool they say can help measure this, as well as a second tool they hope will help communities identify ways of addressing the obstacles that prevent immigrants from succeeding.

The initiative is being led by Western University professor Victoria Esses, who researches immigration policy. It was launched by Pathways to Prosperity, an alliance of university, community and government partners that works to ease integration into Canadian society for immigrants and minorities.

The measuring tool consists of a list of 19 characteristics, such as housing, employment and anti-racism initiatives – all of which the researchers say are key factors in creating a welcoming community. The tool provides a set of indicators for each characteristic, to help communities measure how welcoming they are.

At a time when Canada is admitting record-high numbers of immigrants, keeping track of these things is crucial, Prof. Esses said. For new arrivals, finding affordable housing, employment, schools, social services and health care can be daunting. When immigrants don’t feel welcome in a community, they often leave.

“If we don’t know how welcoming those communities are, and if they’re not retaining newcomers, then the program bringing in that many people is going to fail,” she said.

Canadian immigration targets respond to, and create, generational tensions

Last year, the federal government announced it was increasing its immigration targets for the next three years. It is now aiming to admit almost 1.5 million new permanent residents to Canada by the end of 2025 in order to respond to significant labour shortages and an aging population. The boost is also intended to attract newcomers to rural communities.

Prof. Esses said the measuring tool is particularly important for small- and medium-sized communities, because they historically have not absorbed a great deal of immigrants. Now, many are working to attract and retain them.

In addition to affordable housing, employment and social services, another important thing for communities to address is anti-immigrant discrimination, Prof. Esses said.

She added that it will be important for communities to measure their progress over time, determine how well immigrants are faring and put in place new strategies and structures to address any gaps that are identified. “A really important piece of this is that some of this measurement will be a baseline,” she said.

The second tool – the one for addressing gaps – will include best practices based on evidence, she said. If a community discovers it has gaps, the kit will provide potential solutions.

“I support the government’s program of bringing in many immigrants in the next few years. I think that’s great,” Prof. Esses said. “But I think this piece of welcoming communities is crucial, and I can’t emphasize enough that those two really go hand in hand.”

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