Most Canadians are pleased to welcome in families of Syrian refugees. It is gratifying, after all, to wave “Welcome” posters at the airport, hand over second-hand ski jackets, scarves and mittens to grateful strangers, or even offer them your basement suite.
But the real test of how well a society adapts to newcomers is to wait six months, and then a year, and then a generation, and see how the newcomers fare over time.
It turns out that in Canada, they fare well — especially compared to the plight of immigrants and refugees in a country such as France, where images of police raids and suburban tension followed the recent terror attacks that were committed by homegrown jihadis in Paris.
Canada ranks among the best countries in the world for integration, according to the 2015 Migrant Integration Policy Index, a study of 38 developed countries. Canada scored highly — No. 6 — for its open job market, pathway to citizenship, investment in language training, settlement services, cultural diversity and training programs. The government has pilot programs in specialized language training, helping newcomers strengthen language skills in occupational areas so they can get jobs that reflect their qualifications.
Canada’s multicultural policy also helps immigrants feel more at home, especially when they come from religious minority backgrounds as many Syrians do.
Jeffrey Reitz, a University of Toronto sociologist, found that while employment rates for recently arrived Muslim women in Canada are low at first, and they are less likely to work outside the home, they catch up over time.
“Group differences fade for those with more than 10 years in Canada, and completely disappear for their children born here,” he noted. “This is not the case in France.”
In contrast, even French-born Muslim women in France are 13 per cent less likely to find work than the mainstream population, said Reitz. He attributes the discrepancy, in part, to the French ban on wearing head scarves in public. “The ban is punitive and ends up pushing more people into poverty,” he says.
The November terror attacks in France highlight again how vital it is for host societies to ensure newcomers and their families can succeed.
Success, in turn, may be the perfect antidote to second-generation Islamic radicalization.
In Canada, the job market is open and there are no structural barriers to employment. Being surrounded by immigrant success stories in fields as diverse as banking, academia, literature and politics gives newly arrived immigrants role models and a sense of optimism about the future.
“In Canada, we can have confidence in our system because immigrants and refugees can see themselves in our narrative,” noted Ratna Omidvar, executive director or the Global Diversity Exchange at Ryerson University. She has shared Canada’s best practices with policy-makers and academics in Germany who are interested in replicating successful policies.
Governments at all levels invest in newcomers. Private charities such as the Maytree Foundation have launched programs to help immigrants do everything from finding professional mentors and obtaining employment in their field, to settling in neighbourhoods with good public schools.
Indeed, data from the 2011 census shows that the average income for university-educated children of immigrants with an ethnic minority background is actually higher on average than those with English, French or aboriginal backgrounds, according to research conducted by Jack Jedwab, executive vice-president of the Association for Canadian Studies and the Canadian Institute for Identities and Migration.
“How many other countries can say that? Not very many,” said Jedwab.
(Courtesy Toronto Star)