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Immigrating to or seeking asylum in a new country is a trying experience. In Quebec, the government currently assists new arrivals in tackling the difficulties of learning a new language, adapting to a new culture, and breaking into the job market. However, with the budget cuts announced by Quebec’s Liberal government, these services are in jeopardy.
On June 13th, Finance Minister Yves Séguin made it clear that Quebeckers should expect a lot less from the state. Over the course of their mandate, the Liberals plan to shrink the state by reducing or eliminating services Quebec’s civil society organizations have fought for decades to acquire.
Among the agencies hardest hit by budget cuts is the Ministry of Immigration and Citizen Relations (MRCI) which will suffer a budget cut of 16.4 percent. According to an article published in Le Devoir, Michelle Courchesne, the minister responsible for the MRCI, plans to transfer the responsibility of assisting new arrivals to their cultural communities.
Existing services are far from perfect. Nonetheless, the possibility of losing them raises some serious concerns among local groups dealing with immigrants and refugees. Khadija Mounib, who counsels new arrivals for Alternatives, worries that immigrant communities lack the required expertise to undertake services the government no longer wishes to offer.
In addition to teaching new arrivals French, the government facilitates their entry into the job market - a task that has become increasingly difficult over the years. Even more educated immigrants have not managed to find jobs corresponding to their level of education.
Statistics Canada’s most recent data reveals that while immigrants who arrived in the 1990s are more educated than their predecessors, they earn less than Canadian natives and are more likely to live below the poverty line. Although 40 percent of immigrants who arrived in the 1990s between the ages of 25 and 54 held university degrees (as opposed to 23 percent of native Canadians of the same age), they currently earn 75 percent of the income earned by their native Canadian counterparts.
Consequently, poverty levels run high among immigrant populations. Statistics also show that an alarming 39 percent of children for whom both parents are immigrants live below the poverty line.
In light of these facts, Mounib states, "the government needs to be strengthening services towards immigrants, not eliminating them."
It is not yet clear how the government plans to administer its budget cuts. But as Teresa Penafiel of the Multi-ethnic Association for the Integration of People with Disabilities points out, with the influx of immigrants expected to rise over the next few years, it will mean lower-quality services.
This could also lead to inconsistency in the services immigrants will receive. According to Stephan Reichhold, Executive Director of the Table de concertation des organismes au services des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes (TRCI), "some of the more newly established immigrant communities such as the Pakistani and Sri Lankan communities are ill-equipped to undertake such responsibilities."
Members of the TRCI, which represents 130 organizations that work with immigrants and refugees in Quebec, hope they’ll have more answers on July 4th when they meet with Minister Courchesne.
In the meantime the government’s proposals for Quebec’s future raise many concerns. "The idea of shrinking the role of the state in order to leave room for privatisation could be dangerous if it is applied to services offered to new arrivals," says Reichhold.
If poverty among immigrants and refugees is already high, the Liberal sink-or-swim approach to their problems is likely to make things worse.
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