Elizabeth Hoffman with Kitimat’s Welcoming Communities’ Immigration Settlement Services listens during an information meeting for Welcoming Communities at the Northwest Community College.

A helping hand to Kitimat’s latest arrivals

Welcoming Communities helps integrate newcomers into Kitimat's community.

They come on promises of jobs and prosperity, but neither are for certain in this age of Kitimat.

What the experts now call newcomers — the catch all term for people new to the area, whether from out of region or out of country — are arriving, many with Bachelors degrees or Masters, but finding that making a new life in Canada and Kitimat can be harder than it seems.

That’s where Elizabeth Hoffman steps in, who heads up Kitimat’s Welcoming Communities’ Immigration Settlement Services.

Her job puts her in touch with what could possibly be Kitimat’s newest generation, and she does everything from connecting people with services that transfer their academic credits between countries, or even just helping fill out paperwork for new arrivals, like to apply for a Care Card.

Hoffman said the majority of her clients have been in Canada less than a year but she does help people who have 10 years of experience as a Canadian.

“Our first six months review showed 17 [clients], and we have had 14 since that time,” she said.

The question is what are all these people doing here? Are they seeking the high paying industrial jobs to support a construction boom in the area? Surprisingly, no. It’s people with health care education that make the bulk of new arrivals.

“Unfortunately…their education in health care doesn’t transfer over here properly,” she said. “They come here expecting that it’s going to be easy to flip in and be that doctor or be that nurse.”

She points out that in other countries it’s often a very noble goal to get health care training and receive a medical degree, but with a glut of trained workers in their home countries, that’s why many turn to Canada, which often posts of needs for doctors and nurses.

Meanwhile Canadian demand is high in places. Take our own health authority for instance. Northern Health is advertising 58 jobs for physicians, from general practitioners to surgeons to psychiatrists, all throughout their area. Kitimat itself accounts for three of those positions.

There are 24 nurse openings throughout Northern Health too, including nurse practitioners and registered nurses.

But whether it’s for health care or other careers, Kitimat has to be careful how it advertises itself to potential new immigrants, says Hoffman.

“What’s happening is when we are advertising for these health care positions and saying that Kitimat is in a crisis…we also need to be truthful that there are very few housing opportunities, and that the jobs that are available…a majority are for those who have their credentials transferred over,” said Hoffman.

“We need to be careful what we’re advertising to the rest of B.C., Canada,” she adds.

She notes that there can be different kinds of newcomers. While some set their eyes on Kitimat from their home, others are ‘floating’, meaning they get to places like Vancouver and find a hugely competitive market, and are directed to places like Kitimat where they’re told work is easier.

Hoffman added that many people move to Canada to send money back home to their families.

Hoffman is worried about the people who come here with an education, find it doesn’t transfer, and are academically only qualified to work in, for instance, fast food. Those jobs won’t provide for rent and for cheques back to their families.

Meanwhile, challenges aside, Hoffman is moving ahead on being the front line assistant to people new to the community.

She said that in the fall sometime they’ll hold a Welcoming Communities dinner, an evening of cultural information and welcoming for Kitimat’s newcomers, that the public is welcome to join.

People who need to connect with Welcoming Communities and with Hoffman can call 250-639-7037.

Welcoming Communities will also be present at noon on September 21 at the Mount Elizabeth Theatre for the International Peace Day celebrations.