Migration & Integration

As newcomers power our cities, our cities must empower newcomers

Migration & Integration

As newcomers power our cities, our cities must empower newcomers

How newcomers are welcomed to this country is an important issue. It shapes their subsequent experiences, and reflects our perceptions and values as Canadians.

We can also respond compassionately to those who live and work in our communities even though they lack a legal right to do so, either because they never applied, their status was revoked or a refugee claim was denied, for example.

Those concerns are shared elsewhere, too, as countries around the world struggle with their own migration and settlement challenges, many of which have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Research and public outreach at Ryerson is contributing to new ideas around belonging and membership for newcomers of all kinds and laying the groundwork for positive change not just here, but beyond our borders, as well.

Changing the world through sanctuary cities

How do we include migrants and refugees in our communities and ensure they enjoy the same opportunities that others take for granted?

That’s a question that animates the research and advocacy of Harald Bauder, a professor at Ryerson and director of the university’s unique graduate program in Immigration and Settlement Studies.

One area about which he has written extensively is the role of sanctuary cities in protecting and including migrants who are denied legal status by nation states. Those cities provide services without asking about immigration status, and they refuse to cooperate with national authorities seeking to punish or deport non-status individuals. They may also ask their police boards to develop similar practices, so that someone can call 9-1-1, for example, without fear that it could lead to deportation.

activists with a banner that says refugees welcome
Protesters in Freiburg, Germany, during the summer of 2015

There’s a reason municipalities opt to show such solidarity. Despite their precarious circumstances, non-status migrants pay property taxes through their rent and help boost local economic growth through their employment. They also contribute to a city’s cultural vitality. That’s why Toronto declared itself a sanctuary city in 2013 — the first in the country to do so. Others now include Hamilton, London, Montreal and Vancouver.

There are similar implications for Canada as a whole. An estimated 200,000 to 500,000 non-status migrants live in the country, according to the Canadian Labour Congress, which also acknowledges the value of their presence.

The most important thing I want people to get from my research is that we can organize our societies in different territorial ways, and that municipalities are an intuitive level of governance in this context.
Harald Bauder, Professor, Geography and Environmental Studies

Yet, there is still much to learn and understand about integrating a hidden part of the population, says Bauder. For that, he is taking a broader perspective in a project for which he is the lead investigator.

“The label ‘sanctuary city’ tends to be used mostly in Anglo-American contexts, but innovative urban approaches that work toward the inclusion of migrants and refugees without full legal status also exist in cities elsewhere, such as Barcelona in Spain, Berlin and Freiburg in Germany, and Quilicura, Chile,” he explains. “My research examines urban sanctuary policies and solidarity practices in various parts of the world.”

The outcome of that work will be useful to a variety of local actors, including municipal policymakers, activists and community organizations, as well as those with a global or regional outlook on migration, he adds.

“The most important thing I want people to get from my research is that we can organize our societies in different territorial ways, and that municipalities are an intuitive level of governance in this context.”

Ryerson enables that research because of the importance it confers to city building. Bauder’s work is all about working with partners to not only to change Toronto and other cities in Canada, but also the world.

of migrants are estimated to reside in urban centres around the world

Understanding the true value newcomers bring

Alongside the widespread social disruption and tragic loss of life caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been at least one positive outcome: it has served to remind Canadians just how important many non-status migrants, as well as legitimate temporary workers, are to this country’s essential services.

Indeed, those employed in the agricultural and health care sectors, for example, have been regarded as much as anyone else as front-line workers during the crisis.

“The work they do was revealed for what it is — neither irrelevant nor superfluous,” says Usha George, a professor and Director of the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement, which aims to be a leader in the transdisciplinary exploration of international migration, integration, diaspora and refugee studies.

“Whether it is in food production, transportation and distribution, hospitality or health and social care, those individuals are often filling significant gaps in the workforce and doing work that needs to be done,” she adds.

For a more cohesive, inclusive society, it is important for us to understand how newcomers actually live and work in Canada once they have ‘settled down’ after their arrival.
Usha George, director of the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement

George’s research focuses on the experiences of newcomers in Canada and the issues they face in adjusting to a new life and developing a reshaped identity and sense of belonging over time. She’s particularly interested in the experiences of women, driven partly by her own as an immigrant from Kerala, a state on India’s tropical southern coast, and those in racialized groups.

The pandemic adds a new dimension to her work, inasmuch as it renews calls to grant greater protections to non-status migrants and temporary workers and make the path to more permanent status easier — thus altering the newcomer experience — in light of the dramatic decline in the number of permanent residents admitted to Canada due to Covid-related travel restrictions.

“For a more cohesive, inclusive society, it is important for us to understand how newcomers actually live and work in Canada once they have ‘settled down’ after their arrival,” George explains. “

“I imagine the outcome would be a deeper appreciation of the immigrant experience and the contributions those individuals make to communities and the economy.”

Migration & Integration

The health of our society – and economy – is indelibly tied to the success of newcomers

Migration & Integration

The health of our society — and economy — is indelibly tied to the success of newcomers

More than 300,000 people immigrate to Canada in a typical year. Those individuals are vital to diversifying our culture and economy, and expanding our workforce.

In fact, without significant levels of immigration, the country’s labour market would shrink. But help is needed. Entering the labour force is a critical step for newcomers to Canada, yet many of them arrive with education and work experience that is either undervalued by the Canadian labour market, or completely unrecognized. In addition, some individuals may arrive with no formal qualifications or previous experience at all.

With the right supports in place, immigrants — and refugees — stand a better chance of becoming contributing members of Canadian society.

Research, advocacy and an innovative networking platform co-created at Ryerson are helping to meet that goal.

Making a difference in the lives of immigrants and refugees

The successful settlement and integration of newcomers is clearly an important policy issue for Canada.

“The ability of Canada to do it right is critical for the future growth and economic, cultural and social health of the country,” says John Shields, a politics and public administration professor at Ryerson’s Faculty of Arts and senior scholar with CERIS, Ontario’s leading network of researchers, policymakers and practitioners working in the field of migration and settlement.

He is also a prolific author of books, articles and research papers whose work is widely cited in international journals. He frequently appears as a guest or panelist on radio, television and podcasts to discuss issues relating to immigration and integration, and as an expert in his field he has shared his insights as a witness before parliamentary committees.

Number of people who typically immigrate to Canada each year

“The research I have been engaged in has been very grounded in the real policy challenges facing newcomers after their arrival in Canada,” Shields explains. “It involves working closely with community-based partners. Hence, the work is centred both in the critical academic literature but also in the lived experiences of support practitioners and immigrants themselves.”

Ryerson’s mandate for applied policy-relevant research and its connection with the community has greatly facilitated his work, Shields adds.

What drives his inquiries is a desire for clarity. “We need to know more about what kinds of settlement programming have the greatest positive impacts on newcomer populations and how best to deliver them,” he says. “This also includes how to reform systems of government partnering with non-profit settlement agencies to ensure those organizations have the ability to respond flexibly to newcomer needs.”

When asked what more he would like to see happen, Shields is quick to list a few ideal-world priorities.

We need to know more about what kinds of settlement programming have the greatest positive impacts on newcomer populations and how best to deliver them.
John Shields, Professor, Politics and Public Administration

“Financially supporting community partners to more actively engage in research would give us greater insight into the working of settlement programs and the immigration policies that guide them. It would allow for more in-depth interviews with settlement workers and immigrants to understand better their experiences. Such funding would also allow us to engage in deeper and more reflective evaluations of new settlement initiatives, including pre-arrival programming. This would help to refine and better target programs for improved outcomes,” he says.

There is no shortage of ideas from Shields. In the meantime, his work and the projects he is leading are already making a profound difference.

Responding to the needs of newcomers

Matchmaking is not always about romance. “We often hear about jobs without people and people without jobs,” says Mark Patterson, executive director of the not-for-profit, social innovation platform Magnet.

“There’s an opportunity to better support employers and workers — especially vulnerable newcomers — during challenging times such as we are experiencing today,” Patterson adds. “The question is, how can we equip employment service providers, community organizations and employers across Canada to create a more inclusive labour market that meets the needs of our evolving 21st century economy?”

Magnet is providing part of the answer. Its mission is to accelerate economic growth in Canada by advancing careers, businesses and communities. It does that by connecting people and organizations to opportunities through an intelligent matching technology that was developed in 2014 at Ryerson’s DMZ — North America’s top-ranked university incubator and one of a series of on-campus zones for startups, causes, projects or ventures — in partnership with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

a team meeting in an office environment
Magnet team meeting

“Ryerson has a long history of partnering with community organizations to support inclusive economic development and has a culture that fosters fresh ideas and solutions to social challenges. This environment provides the perfect home for Magnet,” says Patterson.

Magnet’s network now includes 1.1 million job seekers and students, 500,000 employer accounts, 60 industry associations, and 300 community organizations. The organization also provides the digital infrastructure for Canada’s Future Skills Centre, a federally funded partnership led by Ryerson, alongside The Conference Board of Canada and non-profit research organization Blueprint.

Number of employer accounts within the Magnet network set to connect with 1.1 million job seekers

One of the chief challenges that Magnet is responding to is the needs of newcomers. Its Hire Immigrants initiative helps employers recruit, retain and promote those who are pursuing a place in the Canadian workforce. It also provides policy makers, researchers and community activists with analysis and global thought leadership on immigrant employment and entrepreneurship.

“Magnet’s ALiGN project is also key. In place of creating matches based on skills and experience, it creates talent-to-role matches based on the results of a personality assessment,” explains Patterson.

“We believe this work is critical in a time of rapid change and disruption in the labour market,” he adds.

Indeed, empowering organizations in communities across the country with technology, tools and assessments such as ALiGN can help ensure a brighter future in Canada and potentially beyond. The technology Magnet leverages in service of the Canadian economy is both exportable and scalable in other parts of the world. The possibilities for expansion are immense.

Migration & Integration

Immigration and integration are key to helping future cities thrive

Migration & Integration

Immigration and integration are key to helping future cities thrive

Canada is among the world’s most welcoming nations for immigrants. In addition, as the United Nations has noted, this country has an exceptional history of embracing refugees. And yet, there are reasons to be concerned.

Populism based on protectionist and nativist ideologies is spreading globally and even putting some liberal democracies at risk. Canada is not immune to those pressures or the degree to which, as a core tenet, they seek to devalue the essential role newcomers play in a country’s growth and prosperity.

If Canada wants to be regarded as an example for inclusive narratives, we need to stand on guard against such threats. And to do that, we need to understand them better.

At the same time, we need to acknowledge the hurdles faced by local communities in integrating immigrants and refugees. Part of that involves learning more about the process of adapting to a multicultural, yet cohesive social fabric from the perspective of newcomers.

Researchers at Ryerson are exploring these and other issues related to migration and settlement. In doing so, they are helping to better understand what newcomers mean to Canada — and what Canada means to newcomers.

Estimated number of global refugees, roughly half of whom are under 18 years old

Examining migration and integration

While globalization has many benefits, it also produces challenges. We see that in the way delocalized production, transnational delivery of services and the adoption of disruptive technologies can lead to precarious employment. Moreover, our welfare systems struggle to keep pace in that environment.

Migration affects the equilibrium of work and welfare, too. Providing cheaper care services where welfare systems fall short, introducing new talent to push technological innovation further and bringing in much-needed manual labour can have the appearance of competing with native workers.

“We need to keep studying and analyzing how migration affects — and is affected by — global and local socio-economic transformations, with a view to ensuring that both migrants and natives are provided with support and are enabled to make the most of their skills and capacities,” says Anna Triandafyllidou, who joined Ryerson in 2019 as the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Migration and Integration.

a group of researchers at a roundtable
CERC Migration Working Group. Photo by: Alyssa Faoro

The prestigious position — and the first CERC awarded to Ryerson — builds on the university’s strengths and commitments in the area of immigration and integration studies and is supported by up to $10 million in funding over seven years.

Over the past 20 years, Triandafyllidou has built an influential body of work with research that has become the standard reference among academics and policy-makers. Now, she is leading an ambitious research agenda at Ryerson in what she describes as a 360-degree approach to examining migration and integration.

Portion of Canada’s population that’s forecast to be made up of immigrants by 2036

“This means that we need to study the impact of migration at the lower and higher ends of the labour market, we need to understand the lived experiences of a diverse labour force, we need to assess how the migration policies of Canada serve the labour market and we need to make sure that all workers’ rights are respected,” she explains.

The data she and her team are collecting will provide insights that could affect a wide range of policies and practices, from how to reboot Canada’s stalled immigration system under the pandemic taking advantage of innovative tech solutions, to assisting migrant entrepreneurship, protecting labour rights, managing temporary migration schemes, possibly reforming the points-based system and even how to use — or not to use — artificial intelligence in the governance of migration and asylum.

“I hope our research helps us understand our common challenges, so we can work together to solve them,” adds Triandafyllidou.

In light of projections stemming from Canada’s last census in 2016 that the share of this country’s population made up of immigrants could reach as high as 30 percent by 2036, that outcome seems more necessary and relevant than ever.

Moving away from stereotypes

What is often overlooked in discussions about newcomers to Canada are the needs of one of the most vulnerable groups: refugee children.

It’s also a neglected group in social sciences research, according to Mehrunnisa Ahmad Ali, who is based in the School of Early Childhood Studies, and teaches and supervises students in three graduate programs at Ryerson.

smiling women and young children at a refugee camp
Syrian refugee children with their families

The reasons for this neglect reflect various challenges that researchers must navigate when working with refugee children, Ali explains. These include addressing the concerns of university research ethics boards and other gatekeepers such as school officials and parents or guardians. The lack of a common language and understanding of socio-linguistic norms, including expectations around social interactions between men and women, and children and adults, are additional challenges for researchers.

Other special skills may also be required, considering that refugee children may have been traumatised as a result of their experiences.

Many of these children have experienced trauma, but there is nothing ‘typical’ about them. We need to approach research with refugee children with great humility, yet do much more of it.
Mehrunnisa Ahmad Ali, Professor, Early Childhood Studies

To address the absence of such studies, Ali is leading a study on refugee children on communicating — through drawings, conversations, written and dictated texts and facial expressions and gestures — what they “remember, feel and care about” as they explore and adapt to their new surroundings.

“Without knowing what those children are thinking and feeling, we simply act on our assumptions about them,” says Ali. “The gap in our understanding of these children gets filled with stereotypes, as a result. We tend to think of them as ‘poor, suffering, innocent creatures’ we must rescue!”

Yet, in Ali’s view that kind of thinking reduces them to “one-dimensional, cardboard-like figures” and we miss opportunities to learn how young people are affected by war, violence, exile and migration.

“Yes, many of these children have experienced trauma, but there is nothing ‘typical’ about them,” Ali claims. “We need to approach research with refugee children with great humility, yet do much more of it, to get to know them and learn how to support them, if needed,” she adds.