Immigration: How to Find Services in Ontario

By Teenaz Javat

When Khurshid Engineer immigrated to Canada in 1972 all she knew about Canada was that it was the great white north. “I knew that it was going to be very very cold and my parents insisted that I pack warm clothes even though I was landing in July.”

Engineer was to join her husband who was already in Toronto. Those were pre-TV days in Pakistan so whatever information she had about Canada was obtained from the newspaper or radio. TV was present only in rich households and rich people did not migrate from warm countries to cold ones.

On landing in Toronto, her husband encouraged her to explore the city. So one fine morning on a stroll down Front Street she encountered a crowd.

Further inquiry revealed that a Canadian bank was hiring telephone operators and those in the crowd were all looking for a job. The savvy 21-year-old Engineer stood in a line that had formed and a few hours later came out with a job in her pocket and a song in her heart. She had landed a job in Canada’s largest bank.

Now a mortgage specialist with the same bank, Engineer reminisced how easy it was then to find a job, but also how difficult it would have been to settle in a new country had she not found one. “We had no settlement services back then like what we have today. In fact, even in the bank where I work things are relatively more accessible to newcomers now than ever before.”

Things have changed in the last 40 years. The Government of Canada has gone out on a limb to make it easier for newcomers to settle into the country. Short of offering a job, some provinces like Manitoba offer pre-arrival services that familiarize the potential immigrant with life in that province.

Services Offered

There are two main types of services offered to newcomer clients: community services and government services. Community services for newcomers include free services such as language training, help with everyday tasks, and job search programs with the specific aim of helping newcomers adjust to life in Canada.

Government services are those that include but not limited to obtaining a driver’s license, obtaining a passport, accessing health care and other government benefits like Child Tax Benefits, Ontario Works program, pensions etc. These programs are offered to the public via settlement agencies. These agencies help navigate through the maze of paperwork, in an attempt to ease the transition into Canada. Most of the program delivery for newcomers to Canada is done via settlement organizations which are directly funded and supported by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).

Provincial programs likewise are funded by the province, all with one goal in mind – to ease the transition from one country to another and help you get settled faster. Permanent residents of Canada, landed immigrants, convention refugees, Minister’s Permit holders, or refugee claimants approved by CIC can avail themselves of the free services offered and funded by CIC.

These services are offered mostly at no charge and are situated in areas easily accessible by public transit. They include:

  • translation of documents like educational transcripts, police record checks, marriage or birth certificates,
  • help with filling out forms and applications that help you get a OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan) card or Social Insurance Number (SIN),
  • finding a job
  • finding job specific training, or
  • finding information about community services, schools, colleges, universities, primary health-care.

Over the years these services are increasingly being offered in community hubs like the local library, public/catholic schools and in community centres across Canada.

The mandate is mainly to reach into the community and make these tax-payer funded services accessible to as many people as possible.

Here are a few services available to newcomers across Ontario.

2-1-1 or www.211Ontario.ca

This is a free public information service, accessible anytime via an easy to recall three-digit phone number (2-1-1) or via the internet. It is a product of the collaborative efforts of many community and government partners. By dialling 2-1-1, callers are directly connectedto certified information and referral specialists trained to assess each caller’s needs, provide accurate information and advise people about the most appropriate service or program available. In Ontario this phone service is currently available to residents of Halton Region, Niagara Region, Simcoe County, Windsor-Essex, Thunder Bay and District, Ottawa, Peel Region and Toronto.
www.211Ontario.ca is also a reliable, user-friendly resource offering a fully searchable, bilingual point of access to over 56,000 community, social, health and related government programs and services in Ontario.

Library Settlement Partnerships (LSP)
CIC as part of LSP supports participating libraries so they can purchase materials needed by newcomers. Thousands of books and many new newspaper, periodical and database subscriptions are now available throughout the province on topics important to newcomers, particularly in the areas of language learning and employment. LSP services include one-on-one settlement information and referral, group information sessions, and community outreach. Newcomer settlement workers are working out of 49 public library branches in communities with high newcomer populations providing service in a variety of languages based on community needs.
For more information on these contact your local library or Laura Heller, Ontario coordinator at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Tel: 416 986 1855.

The Host Program
Helps connect newcomers with volunteers from the community to create friendships. It started in 1984 to help newcomers explore their new environment, help practice English or French, introduce them to the community and services offered therein. However, the host will not provide the newcomer with any money or living accommodation and is not a substitute for the services offered by settlement services. The Host program is funded by CIC and can be sourced through any settlement organization. For more information visit www.cic.gc.ca
The Job Search Workshops (JSW)
A series of free three-to-four day culturally sensitive employment workshops offered to new immigrants to Ontario. Coordinated by the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, (OCASI) these workshops are delivered by qualified agencies in Kitchener-Waterloo, Windsor, London, Hamilton, Ottawa, St. Catherine’s, and Durham, as well as Toronto. For more information visit www.jswontario.org.

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