From the moment they set foot in Canada, refugees and newcomers often have a hard time navigating a new language and looking after their financial well-being while trying to understand the Canadian tax, legal, and banking systems.
Some of the barriers that are common among many groups facing financial exclusion are more pronounced among refugees and migrants, which hinders their ability to open a bank account and access financial products and services.
Since the 1990s, Vancity has opened bank accounts for more than 12,000 refugees who transition through the Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSofBC) and other agencies that focus on settlement work for refugees and newcomers.
Opening a bank account is an essential first step in building credit and safely managing money. In 2022 alone, Vancity opened over a hundred accounts each month for Canadian newcomers coming mainly from Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, and Iran.
Many migrants have difficulty accessing credit in the first few years after their arrival because their credit history is often not recognized by financial institutions in Canada.
Through Vancity’s Refugee Assistance Program, we’re continuously creating tailored services to support the banking needs of newcomers, refugees, and displaced people. These include access to credit through Visa services as well as Community Partner Refugee loans, Microfinance loans, and Foreign Credential Recognition services (FRC).
The Foreign Credential Recognition Loan Program provides loans for foreign trained individuals that encounter issues related to the recognition of their academic credentials. Through the program, and in partnership with ISSofBC and Progressive Inter-cultural Community Services (PICS), Vancity helps newcomers pay for challenge exams or recertification in their chosen profession.
Vancity also offers translated financial literacy in Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Pashto, Russian, Spanish, and Ukrainian.
Vancity has a long history of supporting the financial inclusion of refugees with the Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSofBC). In 2016, we helped finance the organization’s Welcome Centre for government-assisted refugees in Vancouver.
This is a first of its kind worldwide facility in wrap-around supports. The58,000-square-feet building includes housing units, a healthcare clinic, classrooms, a Vancity banking kiosk for account-opening, and more within a shared space of other settlement partners and agencies. In 2019, we also supported ISSofBC’s second Welcome Centre in Surrey, which provides the same banking services and other second-step services like employment support.
In collaboration with ISSofBC, Vancity will also help five Refugee families settle in Canada. Besides supporting each family with mentorship, Vancity will fund the settlement costs for one full year for each family. Vancity’s first privately sponsored family landed in Canada on October 15, 2021, and has now settled into their new home.
Beyond the barriers to greater access and use of financial services, refugees and migrants often lack familiarity with the financial and welfare system in Canada. Their lack of confidence in language and the banking system often prevents them from understanding the terms and features of some financial products and services.
Vancity’s financial literacy workshops Each One, Teach One were created to help refugees and newcomers gain the financial literacy skills they require to manage their financial situation, learn how to budget, understand how to calculate exchange rates, and much more. The program now runs on a national level through the Canadian Credit Union Association.
Locally, we have partnered with Family Services of Greater Vancouver and PICS to deliver financial literacy workshops that are culturally relevant and tailored to the unique needs of different groups.
Although essential, financial literacy is just the first step financial institutions can take in helping newcomers thrive. What follows is providing more support for them to access career opportunities.
In 2022, Vancity partnered with MOSAIC to support multiple career and mentorship opportunities for newcomers. MOSAIC’s SCOPE (Social and Civic Opportunities: Pathways to Equity) will help expand programming for racialized newcomers seeking board positions in 2023.
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