The study, Immigrants in the Hinterlands 1992-2005, was published on Friday in Perspectives on Labour and Income. You can read the news release or access the full report at: http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/080125/d080125d.htm
During the years of the study (1992-2005), the income gap between immigrants and Canadians closed more rapidly in small cities than the large cities, but even more rapidly in smaller towns and rural areas.
In very large urban areas, the initial income gap between Canadians and immigrants was 37%, dropping to 22% after four years and by the 12th year, it fell below 10%.
Contrast this with the income gap in small urban areas, where the gap had dropped to 14% after four years and by the 11th year, was 18% higher than Canadians living in similar centres.But in small towns and rural areas, the average income of immigrants was 4% higher than that of Canadians after only one year of permanent residence.
Even refugees, which could be seen as a more vulnerable population than immigrants, find more economic success outside the large cities. The study notes that "Although refugees represented only 5% of immigrants in small towns and rural areas, they integrated very rapidly—so rapidly that, after only one year, their incomes were 10% greater than those of Canadians living in the same type of area. In contrast, refugees in very large urban areas earned 43% less and, after 13 years of residence, the gap was about 20%."
The report explores reasons why this difference may be seen but comes to no solid conclusions. What stood out for me was the suggestion that "the creation of a network--formal or informal--with non-immigrants would likely be inevitable in smaller areas, precisely because of the smaller proportion of immigrants there. In return, this network may be critical to economic integration even if the small proportion of immigrants may be a source of other kinds of disadvantages" (p. 11).
This speaks to me of the importance of having immigrant settlement services available to newcomers, where they can meet non-immigrants, get help with English (if that is needed), learn about Canadian culture, and to establish networks that will help with finding work or setting up businesses. Peace River has been fortunate that local agencies have responded to the larger numbers of immigrants coming to the area. Our little town is becoming increasingly diverse and for me, that is good news, because with immigration comes a more interesting community along with much-needed workers, students for our schools, and potential business owners.
So what does Peace River offer immigrants who come to our community? North Country Power of Work (NCPW) (phone 618-2820) has provided services for many years that help Canadians and immigrants to improve skills in areas such as using computers, doing job searches, and writing resumes. Parts of this function is now apparently being taken over by Alberta Employment, Immigration & Industry and it remains to be seen whether the government agency is able to provide the same level of friendly and responsive service that NCPW offers. Here's the URL for AEII: http://employment.alberta.ca/cps/rde/xchg/hre/hs.xsl/563.html
Peace Adult Literacy & English As a Second Language (phone 618-2838) started out as just Peace Adult Literacy until the need for ESL became so obvious in the past few years. Sharing space with NCPW has allowed synergies to occur between local people and immigrants and has been a great asset to Peace River. Peace Adult Literacy uses volunteer literacy and ESL tutors, so if you've got some time, give them a call to see whether they can use your services.
The Peace Association for Lifelong Learning has been another important factor in getting immigrant settlement services established by identifying and brokering grants. In the January-June Community Learning Guide, residents can learn about classes of interest to new residents such as a Citizenship Test Prep Class or ESL: Playing in English (for mothers and children). PAL has also partnered in offering community potlucks, which has allowed local people and immigrants and other new residents to come together and meet one another. There is much more in the guide, which can be picked up at the pool or NCPW (which handles PAL course registration)--I've just highlighted some of the offerings of relevance to immigrants.
The Town of Peace River Community Services is putting together a newcomers' packet that will help all new residents identify what is available in town and how to get in touch, so watch for that.
As a community, we need to continue to find ways to meet new people and to help them settle in and thrive. Do you have ideas for how we might do this?