HRM seeks local feedback for new immigration strategy

"There are a lot of opportunities put behind doors just because our English isn’t good," said Stella Marina

For the first time in 15 years, newcomers to Halifax had the chance to weigh in to HRM about services available to immigrants.

HRM’s office of diversity and inclusion recently held two community immigration engagement sessions to inform their new immigration strategy.

“The first strategy is from 2005, so this is a continuation of that work,” said Roberto Montiel, coordinator for HRM’s Local Immigration Partnership Initiative, in an interview.

One session was held Monday at the Central Library on Spring Garden Road and the other on Thursday at the Keshen Goodman library in Clayton Park.

Both with the same goal in mind: hearing the concerns of local immigrants.

“We are having much more immigrants, so this is a response to that,” said Montiel.

The strategy has five key focus points:

  • Inclusive public services
  • Safe work environments
  • Equitable employment
  • Meaningful partnerships
  • Accessible information and communication

Louise Adongo, manager of policy and corporate support at Housing Nova Scotia, hosted Thursday’s event. During the event, she said the HRM office of diversity and inclusion hopes to see all five aspects of the strategy implemented. But she noted these meetings will help them figure out which of the five aspects will be given top priority.

At the session locals were invited to rank which aspects they liked most and voice their concerns about the strategy.

When it came to the aspect of inclusive public services, some who attended brought up a lack of transit knowledge accessibility. Several people at the meeting stated they were unaware of where to purchase bus passes and tickets, and said this information should be easily accessible or given upon arrival to the country.

Some guests commented that the HRM website is not easy to navigate and could use some redesign.

“There should be something similar to the Global Center in Seoul, Korea,” said guest Marie Frenette. The Global Center is a place where newcomers to Korea can access essential information like tax information, business advice and information on laws and real estate.

Halifax’s auditor general Evangeline Colman-Sadd recently released an audit of the city’s municipal website, where she said it had a number of problems like broken links and missing pages.

“HRM’s new website was launched before outstanding issues, which impacted the website’s functionality, were addressed,” the audit said.

Sticky notes were used to signify which key aspects of the immigration strategy are the most important to those who attended.

Sticky notes placed to signify which key aspects of the immigration strategy are the most important to those who attended.   Feleshia Chandler

In terms of safe work environments, some participants said they sometimes felt afraid to set boundaries in the workplace out of fear of dismissal or criticism.

Others raised concerns about equitable employment. A few attendees shared concerns that some highly-qualified immigrants are denied senior positions due to their immigrant status, and are expected to start at entry level jobs.

They noted some immigrant degrees and qualifications are not being counted or considered when applying for jobs in Halifax due to the degrees being seen as “foreign.”

“There are a lot of opportunities put behind doors just because our English isn’t good,” said guest Stella Marina.

The diversity and inclusion office and the partnership initiative will bring the immigration strategy to regional council by March 2020 to seek approval for a three-year action plan.

“This is a way of informing that strategy with the voices of the community,” said Montiel.  “One of the main outcomes is getting priorities out of the goals that we already have.”

Feleshia Chandler

Feleshia is a freelance journalist who has contributed to the Coast and Quench Magazine. She enjoys writing about feminist issues, LGBTQ issues and cultural topics.

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