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Immigration and inclusion will define our future cities

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Busy street in Toronto

The cities of the future won’t just be bigger and more densely populated, they will also be more ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse.

By 2050, experts estimate upwards of 250 million people could be displaced by climate change, fleeing floods, droughts, extreme temperatures and destruction of natural environments. In particular migration from South Asia to North America is expected to increase in the next 30 years.

These changes in migration patterns pose an enormous challenge for our cities in the coming years, but migration is already a major urban issue today. Thirty per cent of the roughly 300,000 people who migrate to Canada each year settle in the Greater Toronto Area, and many of the remaining 70 per cent will make their way to other cities and suburbs across the country.

Newcomers bring a wealth of human capital and are vital in diversifying our culture, economy and expanding our workforce. Ryerson research shows that with adequate supports, they have a better chance of integrating successfully and becoming vital, contributing members of Canadian society, improving the long-term success of our cities.

Syrian refugees reach Greece on makeshift boat

Protecting vulnerable newcomers

Not all migrants plan to come to Canada. As Canadians have seen recently with people fleeing violence in Syria, cities must also find ways to take in humanitarian migrants — those arriving as refugees or asylum seekers.

Criminology professor Idil Atak is studying the intersection of security and irregular migration and asylum in Canada. "Migration or refugee protection are not security issues, but they have become [viewed] more and more so after the last decade," she says.

Increasingly, migrants are having their asylum claims denied, placing them in precarious legal circumstances. Some are afraid of being deported, so they avoid making a refugee claim at all, preferring to work underground in cities like Toronto. With no legal status, many live without access to basic services.

"There is extensive research that shows that the more migrants you have in a city, the less crime is committed in the city. But unfortunately even in Canada we have this discourse that migrants who are non-status are likely to be criminals and abusers of the system. It’s not true."

Idil Atak

Toronto declared itself a Sanctuary City in 2013, announcing it would not ask questions about a person’s immigration status when providing services. However, this policy is not properly funded and supported by the city, and city police have begun ignoring it when interacting with people they suspect are undocumented migrants.

This makes some of the city’s most vulnerable people less likely to call the police if they are victims of crime or witnesses to crime.

"The overall aim [of the Sanctuary City policy] is of course to protect individuals in precarious situations … but it’s also about making the city safer and more inclusive. It’s about the values. We are all Torontonians. We all do belong," says Atak.

Toronto City Hall

Toronto City Hall Photo by Dennis Jarvis, Flickr

Collaborating and learning from international cities

"Our cities are increasingly polarizing, not only in terms of income and socio-economic class, but also in other ways, such as immigration status, or whether [people] are of settler and Indigenous origin," says graduate program director, Immigration and Settlement Studies, Harald Bauder. His work examines ways to solve the problems of migration, settlement and reconciliation in our cities.

Canadian cities can learn a great deal from other countries, he says. Communities in Germany, for example, faced similar arrivals of large numbers of refugees in recent years and responded positively, even when the national government made efforts to restrict migration.

When it comes to finding ways to tackle challenges around immigration, "Ryerson is the leader," says Bauder. "The university provides an infrastructure and urban mission that appreciates practical urban research and gives the research community a platform to work towards positive urban transformation."

Job interview involving multiple people

Cracking the job market

Interim Director of the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement and politics and public administration professor John Shields works with community groups and other practitioners in the field to explore ways to help new Canadians get a leg up in the world of work.

"We want immigrants to be resilient — and programming is critical to that resilience," he says.

Migrants coming to Canada through the points system have high levels of education and work experience, but without the right supports and services they can be mismatched with jobs that do not take advantage of their skills, Shields says.

Finding appropriate and meaningful employment is one of the biggest hurdles faced by newcomers. Making sure they clear it can make a big difference to their quality of life.

"The things that are most effective," says Shields, "are things like pre-arrival services, bridging programs. It’s mentoring programs, it’s programs that give immigrants better knowledge about the labour market, but also makes direct connections with employers — that’s really critical."

In her most recent research, Ted Rogers School of Business Management professor Rupa Banerjee is finding new government programs that assess and verify the skills of immigrants before they arrive in Canada which may lead to having more positive results with people finding jobs faster and earning higher wages.

"It seems that the tide may be turning," she says. "Maybe this negative story of recent skilled immigrants doing very poorly in the labour market may actually be shifting a little bit.

"[It’s good] for the economy, for employers … credential pre-assessment is probably more beneficial to small and medium-sized businesses because large businesses have always had the capability to look up credentials and do their own assessment of applicants’ credentials."

By highlighting the need to establish better support systems for newcomers today, Ryerson research is helping to build cities that are better equipped to accommodate rising immigration levels and that are bolstered by policies that will empower the citizens of the future to contribute to our collective success.

"It’s our collaboration within the community that really stands out and makes the work not something that is just theoretical," Shields explains. "It moves beyond the ivory tower to play out in the real world of programming and policy making."

  

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