by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City, with files from Jonathan Hiltz
A proposed plan to track the admission categories of immigrants who respond to Canada’s newly reinstated long-form census could help fill gaps of information about Canada’s newcomers.
“These admission categories are from IRCC [Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada], and are not well-known by the immigrants themselves, particularly for those who were granted permanent residency decades ago or as children,” explains François Nault, director of the Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division at Statistics Canada.
“It’s very hard to ask on a survey or let alone on a census, ‘Under what admission category were you granted permanent residency in Canada?’” he continues.
Nault says StatsCan is exploring the possibility of linking immigrant respondents to their IRCC admission files, building on work that was done to make these same sorts of connections with the 2011 National Household Survey.
“We have a whole process to put in place and to test, but if all goes well, we're confident about the quality of the data that will become available,” he says.
Improving information sharing
Nault says that knowledge of immigrant respondents’ admission categories not only provides information on how many people are in Canada under each group, but that this information can be used with other census data for policy and program analysis.
“It gives us their level of education, their knowledge of French and English, their employment status, their revenue. So all this information we get in the census, everyone will now be able to analyze according to how immigrants were granted permanent residency in Canada.”
Researchers and those who provide services to newcomers say they're eager to receive the 2016 census data to fill in the knowledge gap they incurred when the mandatory long-from census was replaced with the voluntary National Household Survey (NHS) in 2010. The Conservative Government said it made the change to protect privacy and reduce penalties for failing to complete the mandatory questionnaire.
Shortly after being elected last year, the Liberal Government announced it would reinstate the mandatory long-form census.
“The government is responding to calls from citizens, businesses, municipalities, not-for-profit organizations and researchers for high quality information to support decision making,” says Marc Hamel, director general of the Census Program at Statistics Canada.
The long-form census and the NHS
The elimination of the census was criticized by settlement organizations and researchers, who predicted that immigrants, who typically do not respond to surveys, would not feel obliged to complete the NHS. They were concerned that this would create a gap in knowledge about immigrants and the services they need in some communities.
“We know that people without official languages, the poor and the rich, all had lower response rates for the NHS,” says Dan Hiebert, a professor who studies international migration at the University of British Columbia. Along with language barriers, immigrants may not understand why the information is being collected and how it will be shared.
According to StatsCan, the 2011 NHS got a response rate of 68.6 per cent, compared to a 94 per cent response rate for the 2006 mandatory census. The Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants said the results, released in 2013, do not reflect a true picture of immigration in Canada.
“By implementing the voluntary NHS, the Conservative Government created a gap in our knowledge of what challenges new immigrants face in their economic and social integration,” says Ather Akbari, chair of Atlantic Research Group on Economics of Immigration, Aging and Diversity at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, N.S.
He adds that the knowledge gap makes it hard to compare information gathered from the NHS to previous census results.
“My recent research investigates economic integration of immigrants in smaller areas of Canada, such as in Atlantic provinces and urban and rural centres of Atlantic Canada,” he says. “Because the NHS was a voluntary survey and response rates from smaller areas is generally lower, it affects the reliability of results of any evidence-based results focusing on smaller areas."
Filling the knowledge gap
Big cities also rely on census data to track the economic integration of recent immigrants.
Susan Liu Woronko, manager of Employment Services at DIVERSEcity, a non-profit agency servicing culturally diverse communities in Surrey, B.C., says the city is growing at a rate of 1,000 new residents every month, based on the municipality’s past estimates.
“After collection and analysis, the picture could be very different,” she says. “The timeliness, or the lack of, is an issue for a fast-growing city like Surrey.”
Liu Woronko says she works with local business operators who are looking to tap into the newcomers’ talent pool to solve their skilled-labour shortage.
“The census data is very important to these employers, as they plan how to market their products and where they may find their next employee,” she says. “This business-intelligence related info is also important for me, so I can best advise newcomers of up-and-coming sectors where opportunities exist.”
Organizations like Liu Woronko's have come to rely on IRCC for more up-to-date immigration data.
“With a real census . . . we [can] now look back and judge the quality of the NHS,” says Hiebert. “Do we throw away those data or are they still useful, and what happened in the past few years?”
StatsCan will send the 2016 census packages to every household starting in May, which can be completed on paper or online.
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