Each year, about 250,000 immigrants arrive in Canada. According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2009), about one-third of in-coming immigrants consist of youth between the ages of 15 to 25. Approximately 40,000 immigrant youth arrived in BC from 2008 to 2009, representing the second highest migration of youth into Canadian provinces. A little more than half (54%) of those youth came from China, India, and Philippines with the remainder originating from the United States, South Korea, Pakistan, Russia, and the United Kingdom.
As Canada is a diverse country, youth who are new to Canada often face a number of challenges that effect how well they adapt to school, learn a new language, become familiar with Canadian culture, and make new friends. Fitting in is a critical aspect of social integration. Unfortunately, many youth feel they must change who they are in order to fit in. Failing to fit in contributes to lower levels of self-esteem and confidence. Research suggests that immigrant youth who had been in Canada for three years or less were often afraid to speak their minds, in part due to language barriers.
Language fluency is an important factor affecting students’ participation and success in school. The most common non-official languages spoken among new immigrant youth are Mandarin, Punjabi, Arabic, and Spanish. The ability to converse with fluency in English or French not only enhances likelihood of fitting in but prepares youth for future careers. From 2004 to 2008, approximately 65% of new immigrant youth spoke English or French. Though this was higher than a decade earlier, 60% of immigrant youth stated that language was a significant barrier to obtaining a job, with some adding that prospective employers expected accent-free English.
The effect of poverty also contributes to physical and mental health risks, social isolation, and decreased ability to concentrate in class. Though most youth are dependent on their families, parents who are new to Canada may not have the needed skills to find gainful employment.
As part of the migration process, new arrivals are generally classified into one of two categories: Economic Class and Non-Economic Class. Economic Class refers to those who have recognized skills and abilities that contribute to Canada’s economy. Non-Economic Class refers to those who do not meet this criterion. From 2004 to 2008, approximately 52% of youth who were new to BC were from the Non-Economic Class. Of these, 49% also lived in households where the total income fell below the Statistics Canada low-income cut-off level.
Immigrant youth have greater difficulty finding employment compared to non-immigrant youth. In 2009, the unemployment rate of immigrant youth was approximately 19% compared to 15% among Canadian born youth. Furthermore, immigrant youth from single-parent families tended to suffer from poorer health resulting from the effects of poverty.
Social Isolation and Risk for Deviance
In addition to language and poverty barriers, youth who are new to Canada often feel socially isolated. Discrimination may be a daily experience, contributing to feelings of exclusion and alienation. Over time, youth often make friends within their own ethnic group where other are experiencing similar challenges, and where they are more likely to feel respected and understood. However, sustained marginalization and lack of school engagement contributes to unsuccessful integration and places individuals at higher risk for involvement in deviant and criminal behaviors. This includes recruitment into gangs due to the lure of gaining social status and respect.
What programs have been initiated by the provincial government to help new immigrant youth?
Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS)
SWIS is an outreach program offering guidance to new immigrant students and their families in both elementary and secondary schools. SWIS provides information and support to enhance and understanding of Canadian culture through the following objectives:
- Promoting greater engagement in the school system;
- Providing information about school registration, activities and community resources;
- Offering support in conflict situations; and
- Increasing opportunities for further involvement in the schools and communities.
My Circle Program
Available through Immigration Services Society (ISS) of BC, the goal of My Circle is to promote active participation and positive integration of young newcomers by training them to become peer support group facilitator and young community leaders (ISS, 2010). Following 80 hours of training, young volunteer facilitators return to their communities to recruit and engage other to join activities that support other newcomer youth and their families.