“Recent policy changes have made things more difficult for immigrant seniors, who typically come to Canada either as sponsored family members or refugees”, Friesen said. Citizenship and Immigration Canada recently increased the amount of time families must commit to financially supporting relatives to 20 years from 10 years, which means that only the wealthiest families are able to be reunited on a permanent basis. On the refugee side, Canada now selects people based on need of protection versus ability to settle.
“All these things are colliding together that impact the livelihood and life and dignity of these folks as they age in Canada,” Friesen said. “What was kind of an eye opener for me is, if you arrive at 65 and you have no financial means, your baseline entitlement is under $11,000 (per year) that you have to live on. On top that, if you’re a refugee, not only is it less than $11,000 but you also have to repay your transportation loan that provided you the opportunity to come to Canada.”
Disconcertingly, this article has received backlash based on the false perception that newcomer seniors receive more in government assistance than other Canadian senior citizens.
The Canadian Council for Refugees debunks this misconception:
“Have you heard rumours that refugees in Canada receive greater assistance from the government than pensioners?
For several years, a persistent chain email has been circulating claiming that refugees receive significantly more money in income assistance than Canadians collecting a pension. he information, which is based on a letter published in the Toronto Star, is false. The record has been set straight by the federal government and the Canadian Council for Refugees.”
Refugees come to Canada in different ways, but no matter the category, refugees receive very limited income assistance from the government.
The true picture is that:
- Refugee claimants and refugees recognized by the Immigration and Refugee Board receive no special income assistance. They may, depending on provincial regulations, be entitled, like other residents, to social assistance.
- Privately sponsored refugees are not entitled to government assistance (including provincial assistance) during the period of their sponsorship (usually for one year after arrival in Canada). Their income support must be provided by their sponsors.
- Government assisted refugees have access to financial assistance from the federal government through the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP). This financial assistance is generally for one year maximum and is received only if they do not have their own financial resources or income. The exact rate depends on the size of the family and is tied to social assistance rates. In Ontario in July 2013, for example, a single person receives $781 per month. In addition, government-assisted refugees are entitled to a one-time set up allowance, to cover such things as clothes, basic household effects and staples, and telephone installation. For a single person there is a maximum one-time allowance of $905, plus a $564 loan for house rental and telephone line deposits.
Most resettled refugees arrive in Canada with a significant debt burden, since they are expected to repay the Canadian government for their transportation to Canada as well as the cost of their medical examination undertaken as part of their processing to come to Canada. Refugee families therefore often begin life in Canada with a debt running to thousands of dollars. Interest is charged on this loan at a rate set by the Department of Finance each year.
For more information on transportation loans for resettled refugees and the devastating impacts they have, see: http://ccrweb.ca/en/transportation-loans and http://www.ccrweb.ca/documents/loansEN.pdf.