It’s not easy to move to another country. Newcomers, especially women, face a variety of employment barriers when they arrive in Canada. That’s where the Regina Immigrant Women Centre steps in.
Their organization first began in the 1980s, when immigrant women in Regina, Saskatoon, Yorkton, Moose Jaw and Swift Current formed an organization called The Immigrant Women of Saskatchewan with different chapters in these cities to help newcomers and their families.
“Back then there weren’t many services available because there weren’t many immigrants coming to the province,” says Neelu Sachdev, executive director of the Regina Immigrant Women Centre. “But those who were here had nowhere to go to get assistance other than mainstream services.”
Regina Immigrant Women Centre Fills a Need in the Community
Sachdev says many women couldn’t access mainstream services, particularly if there was a language barrier – and they didn’t know where else to go. The Regina Immigrant Women Centre (RIWC) stepped up to fill that need, and their organization continues to expand their programming, especially since immigration has grown considerably in Saskatchewan over the last 20 years.
In 2009, they helped 800 newcomers, and today they help more than 1800 people each year with settlement advising, language counselling, education and training, employment programs and family support.
Multiple Barriers Facing Newcomers to Canada
The RIWC identifies many obstacles for newcomers seeking employment in Canada, including language barriers, lack of information and knowledge of job search strategies, resume writing and job interview preparation. As a result, newcomers face greater rates of unemployment or underemployment.
According to the RIWC, there are also structural issues at play. Many employers won’t hire newcomers if they don’t have Canadian work experience. The RIWC says this issue particularly impacts newcomers between the ages of 16-30. To help women and youth gain Canadian working experience, the RIWC introduced a youth employment and skills program. The program offers a work placement for participants in a field related to their previous work experience, education and interests.
In addition, many newcomers arrive with education, skills and job experience, but struggle to continue their careers because they can’t afford the cost of Canadian credentials or licensing. It’s such a problem that Canadian organization Windmill Microlending provides affordable loans of up to $15,000 to help cover these costs for newcomers.
Women are ‘left behind’ When Integrating into a New Society
The RIWC says that immigrant women over 30 may face even more barriers, such as less access to English classes or classes that teach pre-employment skills, due to a lack of childcare.
“A lot of time in the immigration process, women are the ones who get left behind in terms of their integration into the new society, language and culture because they are so busy trying to fend for the family,” Sachdev says. “They may have trouble because they weren’t able to do it as soon as they got to Canada because they were looking after other things or they needed to upgrade.”
One way they’ve addressed this is by offering childcare for women attending their classes.
COVID-19 Pandemic Adds Additional Challenges for Newcomers
The COVID-19 pandemic made things even more difficult for newcomers in Regina. According to the RIWC, women were hit by multiple stressors: they experienced job loss, had to start home-schooling their kids and in many cases, were responsible for providing extra care for sick family members.
On top of that, many have limited social connections, and social distancing measures brought even greater isolation.
RIWC Offering Virtual Classes for Newcomers
To address those new challenges, and help more women access their classes, the RIWC moved to a virtual platform. Their classes now incorporate digital literacy training, financial literacy and they also offer sessions for kids.
“My hope is that we as a centre are as accessible to as many families as we can be so that they feel assistance is right there for any of the difficulties they may have integrating into the community,” Sachdev says.
More Organizations Doing Good in Regina
There are many organizations doing an exceptional job serving the community in Regina. Creative Options Regina (COR) supports people with disabilities by providing arts programming, work placements and other personalized support services.
Guru Nanak Free Kitchen feeds hundreds of people every Sunday — for free — to help fight food insecurity in Regina. The newly formed Habitat for Humanity Saskatchewan hopes to help 21 families achieve their dreams of homeownership this year.