This newsletter issue is announcing the reduction of our services and to list those that we can continue to provide going forward.
We are reduced to our only full time volunteer in the office to attend to requests and to a few volunteers working on the ESL and Conversation programs.
Our hours of operation are reduced to just 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Mon to Fri, with many closures being devoted to attending appointments or navigating the system with one of our members at the moment.
Anyone in need of our services is advised to call ahead (709-754-4122) or schedule an appointment via our contact form on our website, www.riac.ca .
As we currently have almost no revenue, we will be proceeding on a month by month basis, thanks to our generous landlord. Every month, we will report on our ability to have a location available to receive our members and to provide ESL classes.
In light of this situation, we had to forgo a couple of grants that had previously been awarded to us. This was required due to the lack of staff available to deliver the promised services and for the lack of the additional funding requested in the applications.
The following is a more detailed recount of these facts, for those interested in understanding where are we coming from. Note that this is a summary of a longer letter remitted to several levels of government.
Firstly, we want to give you some background as to the work that we do.
This organization has been working in the province since 1983, adapting to demand and to any new legislation requirements. Our core mandate is to provide the support necessary for refugees and immigrants who make our beautiful province their home so they may live as active participants in our communities. We call them members of our organization, as they not only come to receive our free services but they also contribute strongly to the delivery of our mandate. In that sense, we do not have clients; their needs are our mandate.
We fulfill this mandate in three distinct aspects.
First, we aim to enrich our communities. We do so through a variety of outreach and awareness programs, events, and community activities.
Second, we facilitate participation, rather than integration, of refugees and immigrants in our communities. We do so through providing services that our members and the community at large can avail of.
Finally, we enhance our own operations at every possible opportunity. We have had a dedicated team of staff and volunteers throughout the years, who through ongoing training programs are constantly learning and growing in their roles in order to find the best possible ways to deliver our services and programming to our members and the community at large. After they have served, they keep in touch and make themselves available as the need arises.
We have nearly 6,000 subscribers to our newsletter who keep in touch regularly, to remain up to date on refugee, immigration, diversity and participating opportunities. They also want to know what and how we are doing and to find how they can help.
Our membership base is comprised of:
- refugee claimants who are not eligible for services elsewhere,
- refugees after their one year of services under GAR or PAR,
- regular immigrants and their visiting family members,
- international professionals and their families,
- temporary foreign workers and their families,
- “newcomers” from Quebec who do not have access to any kind of language support, orientation or training otherwise, and
- locals requiring orientation on very many issues ranging from family sponsoring to landlords or employer’s concerns with our growing diverse community.
There is a gap in the provision of services needed by all classes of immigrants in the province, most of which don’t qualify for assistance under the federal immigration programs. We are sure, as it is our everyday experience for over 30 years, that this shortage of services is the main source of the low retention and attraction of immigrants in Newfoundland & Labrador, the lowest in the country. That being said, the number of individuals in the Provincial Nominee Employment Program, which has one of the best retention numbers around the country, has been increasing consistently.
We would like to share with you the status of our access to funding in order to help our members, which had been very difficult in the past but it has come to a harsher point in 2016.
We are a grassroots organization and are volunteer oriented. Our financial support comes from three sources. The first two are donations and social enterprise profits, both of which have been greatly impacted by the province’s financial recession. This funding comes out of years of hard work, with donors to our charity and with customers to the social enterprise initiative. As such, this income is very difficult to replace.
Our third source of support is via the province’s Department of Advanced Education and Skills (AES) job oriented programs. However, we have recently received news that we are facing an almost 70 percent reduction in support for our four subsidized employment positions. Under the Jobs NL program, we were previously approved for two full time, 52 week positions, for which we have to find a 50% funding elsewhere, but it has been reduced to one full time position for only 26 weeks at 50% of the salary. As well, via Service Canada’s Job Creation Partnership administered by AES, we had two full time positions for 52 weeks. Now we have been told that we can only apply to one. In relative numbers, we went down from 4 positions to 1 full and a one-quarter of a second position.
Our provincial government has not had an immigration budget to help NGOs in the immigration sector for several years. This means that we don’t have access to provincial funding. As we are a relatively small organization, run mainly by volunteers, and there is an only one ISP/SPO in the province that has a strong grip in any other kind of funding, we had never applied to become a federally funded Immigration Service Provider or Settlement Agency. Under the federal settlement program, there is a myriad of preconditions and exclusions, and this would prevent us from providing services to absolutely anyone coming through our door. We also wanted to stay away from any perceived duplication or overstepping of functions. However, we are strongly convinced that in this province there is room to take in more assisted newcomers, and also for covering the gap in services experienced by the refugees once they go exceed their single year of Government Assisted Refugee or Private Sponsorship assistance or the support provided by other immigrants or local individuals runs out.
On the federal level, we don’t have knowledge of programs or grants related to serving refugees and immigrants besides the ones by the Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Department that are exclusively oriented to under one year recent arrivals. Most other grants from other departments are specific target oriented and we can’t “bend” them to have them cover for the population we see.
It is hard to describe the impact of this funding issue. At RIAC, over 1,000 people come through our doors annually seeking the services we provide, or additional assistance not covered by any other NGO or government office in the region. These individuals include the currently registered students in our weekly ESL classes, who seek the critical instruction unavailable in the region, and the participants in our conversation partner program. Most importantly, we see several members per day coming through our doors for advice. In addition, our partner organizations rely on us for referrals of situations that nobody else handles in the region.
Volunteers and interns are also an integral part of our membership that will be impacted by our funding issues. In most cases, they are newcomers that cannot obtain a position elsewhere for lack of network.
With the cost of our activities, events, rent, utilities, supplies, partial salaries and other operational expenses we are providing all of the above-mentioned services on a budget of less than $300,000 annually, including employment subsidies and volunteer hours.
We have been doing our best to help those that come to us. Whether it be through informal ESL classes, advice on employment, help with immigration applications and other issues, or by simply offering a welcoming space, we provide for our community as best as we can. Services for newcomers in Newfoundland and Labrador are neither particularly strong nor readily available, and any cuts to funding for community service providers – including ourselves – only makes this service deficit worse. Attraction and retention for any immigration program are severely hindered. If we cannot work through the provincial funding cuts and economic downturn, this will leave hundreds of locals and newcomers unserved, will mean a halt in the search to find a stable source of information and services for those strong willed enough to make this province of ours theirs as well.
We will continue working to keep our doors open as long as we can.