The challenges of immigrating to Canada’s small towns
COVID-19 has changed the way we do business and socially interact with each other. Both are now more tech-dependent and are expected to continue to be so in the near future. While this opens up the possibility for people to settle in regional centers, it can exacerbate the integration challenges newcomers face. In the absence of a physical office space, how will they connect with their colleagues?
Building social and professional networks through online meetings is particularly difficult. Access to devices to work on will also continue to be an issue for families if every family member is expected to work / study / communicate virtually. The digital literacy divide will have an even greater impact. These new challenges will complicate the integration of newcomers.
The housing sector will also present new challenges to newcomers, who tend to reside in rental housing during their early years in Canada. Due to their overall lower incidence rates of COVID-19 and a shift towards remote working, some medium and small-sized cities, which may offer more space and an attractive natural environment, have become magnets for those who reside in larger cities where the incidence rates are higher. As a result, the demand for housing has increased sharply outside major urban centers.
The housing market has not been able to keep pace with demand due to disruptions in the supply chains of building materials and appliances. The result is rising rapidly and for some, house prices are unaffordable. This, in turn, is likely to cause greater demand for rental housing, which also faces supply bottlenecks. The overall result is an inevitable increase in rents and an increase in multi-family housing, where social distancing can be a major problem.
Studies in a number of OECD countries, the risk of COVID-19 infection is twice as high among immigrants as among natives, due to poor living conditions. A 2020 Statistics Canada Report found that recent immigrants to the country are more likely to report symptoms of anxiety, such as feeling nervous or nervous, than other Canadians.
What can be done?
The social, economic and public health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be felt for years to come. Public policies and practices aimed at successfully integrating and retaining migrants outside major urban centers in the post-pandemic context will have to adapt to new challenges.
Extended broadband Internet services; greater availability of public computers with Internet connections over a longer period of the day; and awareness of mental health issues and support for programs to help people cope with distance, uncertainty and stress should all become public policy priorities.
In the housing sector, deregulating the process of building new homes and speeding up the building permit process could help address some of the supply issues, which in turn will help keep housing prices down. within affordable limits.
Some small towns are already thinking about how to seize this opportune moment. Some of these cities in Atlantic Canada, for example, have been less affected by the pandemic. This gives them a competitive edge over big cities in attracting newcomers – immigrants and non-immigrants – given the growing trend to work from home.
The province of Nova Scotia has already launched a new countryside to attract people, emphasizing that they can enjoy life in a beautiful natural environment while keeping their jobs by working from home. For these promotion initiatives to have a lasting effect on attracting immigrants, carefully designed settlement and integration policies are essential.