Ready for a new life in Canada? What you need to know as you begin your journey

Sylvia Wootten, settlement manager at Newcomer Centre of Peel (NCP), has some important words of wisdom for immigrants seeking a seamless settlement experience in Canada: Plan your settlement journey.

“You must do your due diligence to access settlement resources that can help you with this process, so you don’t bear the burden of it all on your own. By accessing the right resources, you can be set on the path to success, but there will be barriers along the way. If you understand and prepare yourself for this, you can persevere.”

Wootten and her team are often the first point of access for just-arrived permanent residents. She says she cannot underscore how important it is for immigrants to have a settlement action plan in place – a detailed list of what needs to be taken care of – with proper guidance from a settlement counsellor. This can make the first few weeks less stressful. It can also allow just-arrived immigrants to tackle action items such as applying for the health card and Social Insurance Number (SIN), having children’s immunization cards ready for school admissions, opening a bank account, etc.

“The settlement action plan is a dynamic document that is ever-evolving and changing based on the changing needs of the clients,” says Wootten. “As clients complete some action plan items, others may arise, and thus new plans of action are developed. We engage in a wrap-around approach where clients are able to access the full hub of services available at NCP in a ‘one-stop shop’ format.”

A first meeting at the settlement agency will start with an intake process and needs assessment. At this meeting, settlement counsellors will seek to understand the client’s needs. They will ask for important information such as the client’s background and immigration status in Canada to help create a settlement action plan. Once a plan is created, the agency refers you to relevant people to connect with and speak to within the agency and other supports that can also be available externally.

Some common settlement needs to tackle as you begin your journey include:

Completing paperwork related to immigration status such as finalizing Immigration, Refugee Citizenship Canada (IRCC) application documentation including applications for Permanent Resident (PR) Cards, convention refugee documentation completion, etc.
Sponsorship of family members: You can sponsor your spouse, partner or child to Canada if you’re a permanent resident or citizen and if you can support them financially. The process would involve sending both the sponsorship and the permanent residence applications together at the same time.
Finding employment in your field of work or study. This could involve addressing credential evaluation processes: Is the profession regulated or non-regulated? Is continuing education necessary? Is there a need for licensing/association designations, resumé and cover letter help, mock interviews, understanding the Canadian labour market and more.
Finding suitable housing based on where you want to settle, family composition, proximity to work or ethnic cultural hubs, affordability, etc.
Understanding financial resources: Accessing financial resources when most required – especially during the pandemic, such as understanding eligibility for the CERB, applying for Canada Child Tax Benefits, the Ontario Electricity Support Program Subsidy, Ontario Works, etc.
Taking care of health needs: While you can apply for a provincial health card as soon as you land, there will a three-month waiting period before your coverage begins. If you have landed recently, find out how to access health care services with or without your health card. Find a family physician, information on COVID lockdown restrictions and stay-at-home orders, how to get tested for COVID if needed, vaccination protocols, etc., and learn how to navigate health care emergency systems.
Do you have children? Learn about school systems, understand the education structure in Canada, find out the process of applying for youth and adults for post-secondary education, and learn about loans available for education.
Creating a support network: Immigrating to a new country comes with fair share of anxiety. Your settlement worker can help you find and connect to resources including social and mental health supports to help you integrate.

Kevin Stevens, labour market access manager at NCP, says newcomers who are armed with the right resources will find Canada to be a country of opportunity and success. “The design of settlement agencies across the country shows how much Canada relies on the success of immigration initiatives to help this country grow,” notes Stevens. “Settlement agencies are there to help our newcomer immigrants have the toolkit they need to succeed in this country.”

Finding her North Star: Anu Vittal

Anu Vittal was initially apprehensive about moving to Toronto because it would mean giving up a lucrative salary and well-established career that she had with a U.S. firm. So, she decided to visit Toronto to see firsthand if she could see herself settling here and growing. “I loved Toronto and its diversity,” Vittal says. “I loved how you could walk down Yonge Street and every 100 metres or so listen to a different language, drink Irish beer, few steps later listen to Turkish music and sip Turkish coffee…eat or takeout authentic Vietnamese pho. It’s as if you can experience the whole world in one street.”

Vittal immigrated to Canada in 2002 and found that doing so all by herself was initially intimidating. She felt lost and alone the first few weeks and wished she could find more readily available information at her fingertips that would help her navigate her settlement journey. Vittal’s own experiences as a newcomer informed all her subsequent steps in Canada.

Through the years, she has tested the entrepreneurial waters and joined several prominent art-focused and settlement organizations as a board member, in addition to advancing her professional credentials. Vittal is currently the director of sales and marketing for a cloud engineering company in Toronto. She also runs a consulting firm, AVC Inc., which focuses on helping foreign businesses that want to set up their B2B trade and e-commerce in Canada. Vittal has found recognition for her artistic and entrepreneurial endeavours and was named one of Canada’s Top 25 Immigrants in 2009 by Canadian Immigrant.

Vittal’s advice to newcomers: Volunteer; access the services offered by settlement agencies; network and connect with people; and there’s no shame in starting from the bottom and finding your way to the top. “When I first arrived in Canada, I began my journey by slowly integrating into the community by volunteering and connecting with the people,” Vittal recalls. “At that time, I did not have any one specific dream, but what I wanted to do really was connect from a place of creativity and joy.”

In her first few months in Toronto, Vittal, who lived downtown, would often find herself driving around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and nearby places. Whenever she realized she was lost, instead of panicking, she would look out for the lakeshore (Lake Ontario) and use it as her navigational anchor. The shoreline became her guidepost in a symbolic way.

“… just as Lake Ontario’s shoreline was my North Star whenever I became lost, follow your dreams. Take your passion and run with it,” she says.

Navigating their first few months in Canada: Animesh Hakim and Megha Dhar

Animesh Hakim, 34, arrived in Canada in October 2019, and just as he and his wife Megha Dhar were steering through the multitude of settlement issues, Canada, much like the rest of the world, went into a lockdown as a result of COVID-19.

The couple sought the help of a settlement agency, but the bulk of their decisions, including their plans to immigrate to Canada, was based on the information and advice supplied to them by friends and friends of friends. Hakim and Dhar found that sometimes there was a bit of a disconnect in the information they received versus the reality.

“Our close family was a definite support in the initial days of our arrival,” Hakim says. “In our job search, we realized early on that there was an inherent difference in the way organizations in Canada and India function, and as a result, the hiring process was different.”

A few of the settlement issues were a bit of shock as well. Hakim found out—the hard way—the cost of living estimates he had been told by friends did not hold up.

Also, he admits, initially, he and his wife tended to convert every item of grocery, every expense into Indian rupees for comparison. The result was a “rude shock”. Hakim also discovered the minimum money they would need for their monthly expenses in Canada was actually much more than what they had initially anticipated.

“Food, rent, phone bills and vehicle insurance are expensive in Canada,” Hakim says. “The insurance we were paying for our vehicle as well as our monthly wireless bills were definitely much higher than what we had accounted for. I still feel these are incomprehensibly high compared to what we paid in India. And because it took us a while to get jobs, we saw a rapid draining of our savings.”

Presently, Hakim and Dhar have found jobs and are waiting for the COVID-19 related restrictions to be lifted so that they can begin to explore Canada. Despite their struggles in the first few months, Hakim says he has no regrets about choosing to immigrate to Canada and thinks it was the right decision to make.

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