Syrian newcomers to New Brunswick like living in the province, but face hurdles finding work and learning English, according to a new two-year study.
Mikael Hellstrom, a researcher from the University of New Brunswick’s urban and community studies institute, studied the experiences of Syrian refugees with settlement and integration in the province.
He spoke to 40 refugees in Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John — 20 in face-to-face interviews and the other 20 in a focus group.
“They find it’s a place where you can have a really good quality of life,” with a low cost of living, that it’s friendly and a good place to raise a family, he said.
They also appreciate the settlement services available, such as translation and housing.
But many of them want to get into the labour market to start providing for their families as soon as possible. “And that’s really where some of the frustrations are,” Hellstrom said.
Many face difficulty getting their professional training credentials recognized — a process that can be “difficult to navigate” and take a long time. So they’re often forced to take a lower-level job.
Their work schedule can interfere with their English studies, which can slow their advancement.
Participants voiced concerns about the low number of hours of classes available per week and the mixed levels of language competency within those classes.
They also said they wanted a curriculum that would help more in everyday life, such as when meeting with a health-care professional.
These barriers are not necessarily unique to New Brunswick, said Hellstrom.
But, as the province continues to struggle with a declining population, it’s looking to immigration to reverse that trend.
To do that, the province will have to find ways to speed up entry into the labour market, he said.
Internship programs proposed
“New Brunswick governments and key gatekeeping bodies, including professional colleges and associations with jurisdiction over certification need to examine how to reform established systems to facilitate labour market entry,” Hellstrom wrote in his report.
He suggests the provincial government could provide funding for bridging programs in key occupations.
Hellstrom also recommends developing internship programs that would allow refugees to learn English on the job.
Some refugees have found positions where their managers spoke Arabic and were able to translate, so they learned English, including the technical terminology associated with their field of work, were able to earn money and gain experience.
It “seems like an excellent idea,” he said.
Hellstrom acknowledged it may not work with every occupation, but contends it’s worth exploring.
The male participants in the study listed up to 20 years of experience from about 19 different occupations.
The majority had blue-collar backgrounds, such as bricklayers, bus drivers, carpenters, mechanics, tailors and welders.
About 80 per cent of the study participants were male.
The majority of the female participants were homemakers. When they talked about potential careers, they spoke of professions where they could draw on that experience, such as child care and restaurant services.