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B.C. population growth highlights need for immigrant supports: advocates

Affordable housing, underemployment are key issues for immigrants in B.C.
(Black Press file photo)

Canada is one of the fastest-growing nations in the G7 and that growth is driven in large part by immigration, newly releases census data shows.

Immigrants account for around 80 per cent of Canada’s population growth, according to data released Wednesday (Feb. 9).

B.C. was the province with the second-highest percentage of population growth since 2016 and four of the top five fastest-growing metropolitan areas in Canada are in B.C.

READ MORE: B.C. population tops 5M in 2021, province grows by 7.6% since 2016

Carlos Teixeira, a professor with the department of geography at UBC Okanagan, said the findings of the census don’t surprise him.

“Immigrants, in general, don’t go to rural areas. They prefer urban centres where there are already established ethnic communities. The existence of those communities eases integration into Canadian society.”

Teixeira’s research has found that new immigrants to Canada are bypassing urban centres and settling in areas with more affordable housing. For example, many immigrants to the Metro Vancouver area tend to settle in surrounding communities like Delta, Langley, Surrey, Chilliwack and Abbotsford where rental prices are relatively more affordable.

“Immigrants come to Canada for economic reasons. They want jobs, they want to be successful, they want to integrate into the tapestry of our country. But they also need affordable housing,” Teixeira said. “The ultimate goal for most immigrants is to own a dwelling. Owning a home means they did it, they’re successful, they can say this is my country and they’re achieving the dream.”

But that dream isn’t often what immigrants find when they come to Canada. Teixeria conducted interviews with 176 new immigrants in the Metro Vancouver area and found that 40 per cent spent at 30 to 50 per cent of their income on housing and 45 per cent spent more than 50 per cent.

Immigrants also face barriers accessing jobs that correspond to their skills and education as their credentials are often not recognized in Canada, which forces them to take lower-paying jobs. A recently released labour market outlook found that new immigrants will fill 35 per cent of the over 1 million job openings in B.C. by 2031 and 83,000 jobs will be left unfilled.

READ MORE: B.C. expected to have more than 1 million job openings in the next decade

Chris Friesen, chief operating officer for the Immigrant Services Society BC, is calling on the province to create a five-year plan and create a ministry for immigration, multiculturalism and anti-racism.

Currently in B.C., immigration issues are split between the ministries of municipal affairs and advanced education skills and training.

“What are the intended targets? How many permanent residents and temporary residents will this province require and process? Where are they going to live? All of these factors will help local communities, municipal governments, health care, school boards and so on plan more accurately for the expanded population growth coming from abroad.”

Friesen is also calling for B.C. to institute skills-based training programs to assess immigrants with internationally-recognized credentials, teach technical English skills and offer wage subsidies to employers who hire immigrants.


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