Report explores legal challenges of new immigrants to Canada

A new report from Western’s Network for Economics and Social Trends (NEST), in partnership with Pathways to Prosperity , paints an in-depth portrait of the serious legal problems and disputes immigrants face in their community and provides recommendations for newcomers to Canada seeking assistance.

Funded by the Department of Justice Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, this qualitative study examined the experiences of immigrants living in Toronto and London, Ont., and identified some of the more common challenges faced by newcomers. These problems include immigration problems, family and relationship issues, housing challenges, employment-related problems, and difficulties in obtaining government services.

"This report provides a snapshot of some of the challenges that new immigrants to Canada face as they strive to integrate into the community," said Victoria Esses, director of NEST, who coauthored the report with Alina Sutter, a NEST postdoctoral fellow. "These findings will help  create programs and services that more effectively address some of the real challenges faced by new immigrants."

The study included 21 interviews with recent immigrants and a few individuals seeking permanent residence, conducted between August and December 2020. Partners on this project included the South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre and COSTI Immigrant Services in Toronto.

Research highlights The interviewees for the research shared some personal experiences resulting in serious difficulties. For example, an immigrant was sponsored by family members who harassed and verbally abused him and forced him to work for pay below-minimum wage. These sponsors opened credit cards in his name without his knowledge, putting him into severe debt, and eventually kicked him out of their house. Unable to find help, he attempted suicide.

"Factors contributing to these kinds of serious problems include unfamiliarity with Canadian laws and individuals’ rights, unfamiliarity with basic Canadian customs and norms, self-reported discrimination, inefficient communication from the government and government agencies, and factors associated with the pandemic," said Sutter.

The interviewees often did not know where to go to obtain help. They reported having limited connections in Canada that could help them navigate the system to resolve their problems.

Close to 60 per cent of the interviewees eventually sought legal advice and representation from legal aid, paralegals, immigration consultants and lawyers. Those who chose not to seek legal advice or to resolve their problems through the legal system indicated they were fearful of the consequences of pursuing legal actions and worried about the associated financial costs.

The challenges faced by these immigrants are multifaceted, and have consequences for their economic, social, psychological and physical well-being, Esses said.

The report offers recommendations focused on providing more information to newcomers about how and where they can obtain legal advice, and increasing the availability of affordable, professional legal services for immigrants.

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