Loly Rico: “The moment a person receive the acknowledgment as a refugee claimant, they should receive a work permit”
Loly Rico, Executive Director of the FCJ Refugee Centre, was interviewed on the Alex Pierson Show (640 Toronto radio), with host Tasha Kheiriddin:
Tasha Kheiriddin: Earlier this week we heard from Doug Ford and Mayor Olivia Chow about new funding that has been coming in to help those refugees who were sleeping on the street in downtown Toronto find shelter. Doug Ford also said, during the course of the announcement of that new money, that these folks want to work. They want to get out there and get jobs, and we got to get them the ability, the permits to work. So how does that happen? How would faster work permits help ease their transition into Canadian society? How do we do this? How do you even get a work permit?
We’re going to talk now with Lolly Rico.She is the executive director of FCJ Refugee Centre here in the city. Loly came from El Salvador in 1990 as a refugee herself with her husband, who has since passed away, and her kids. She’d spent over 30 years advocating for women justice and equity and welcoming all manner of uprooted people.
So Lolly and her family had a particular situation. They fled political prosecution, and her experience exposed her to a lot of vulnerabilities that are far too common for refugee women and children.
Loly, welcome to the show.
Loly Rico: Thank you for the invitation.
T. K.: Well, thank you for coming and thank you for the work you do, because coming to a new country is never easy. If you come as a refugee, though, that I cannot even imagine because the trauma of that would be much more severe than just regular immigration. Tell us a little bit about your experience.
L. R.: Well, I came as a refugee, but I came as a resettled refugee. That means the government of Canada brought us and we came with a special permit because they were doing a special program with El Salvador. And when I arrived, I was welcome in a reception cedntre and we started having all the settlement services for integration.
T. K.: Sounds a bit like what the Ukrainian war refugees dealt with when they came here. We had a settlement center for them. How did that help your transition?
L. R.: Well, it helped us because, one, you start focusing on the language, and second one, they give you programs where you can start learning how to bring your skills and use your skills to get into the workforce.
T. K.: Okay, so when you got here, how long did it take you to find your first job?
L. R.: It took me six months to get my job. A little bit more because I was pregnant and I had my baby and I managed to get a daycare for him. And we are talking 33 years ago. That was a little bit easier than now.
Between six to eight months, I found the job where I am now the executive director, because I was welcoming refugee women and I was working with the FCJ since we started.
T. K.: And that must be very fulfilling for you as well, because, based on your experience, what are the kind of challenges that women and kids particularly face when they are refugees?
L. R.: The women, when they come, especially the ones that are refugee claimants, the challenge that they face is that they have to find a place to stay, and beside that they have to go through the refugee process. It’s a challenge when they start with the refugee process, it’s a challenge now to find a daycare, they have to go in the lineup to get English classes… They end up, if they are lucky, with the children in a shelter.
And after that they will start applying for the work permit and then they will start looking for a job. The challenge that they are facing right now is that when they make the refugee claim, they receive the Acknowledgment, but they have to wait between three to four months to receive a work permit.
And also because they are refugee claimants, they don’t have access to all the employment programs that they are, in a way that you can get into the workforce.
T. K.: So why does it take that long to get a permit?
L. R.: Well, the way it is with Immigration… Because you are making a claim, you need to fill it up, the forms, you need to do medical exams and then, when the forms are submitting, they will issue the work permit.
There are some people that came through Quebec or at the port of entry.. Sometimes, if they came last year, some of them, they are still waiting for the work permit because there is a backlog. And that’s what is sometimes it’s a big challenge for them, because in the meantime they are under social assistance, which is not enough for someone to survive.
T. K.: Right, it isn’t. And especially if you have kids, it’s very challenging.
So how could the government speed this up? I mean, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said they brought in a policy last November to apparently streamline work permit approvals. Has it made a difference?
L. R.: It makes a difference if you submit, like, this year: some people now they are receiving the work permit. But the problem is not just to receive the piece of paper. The problem is that if you receive the work permit and then you go to Service Canada and get your social insurance number, you get the number nine, and in that case you have only access what is information about where to work. But there is not the whole program, employment program, or that they can place you as do placement in a way that you start integrating into the workforce, because you are a refugee claimant.
T. K.: Okay, yeah, I see the difference here is one of the issues is a difference between the resettled refugees, people who are already overseas, screened overseas, so they have a lot of this paperwork done, I imagine, before they get here, and asylum seekers who are then they land here and then, like you said, then they make the claim and you have to go through all these hoops. Is that the biggest problem?
L. R.: That’s one of the problems. And we keep asking to the Federal government that the moment that the person submit their application and they receive the Acknowledgment, that they are refugee claimants, they should receive a work permit, like the do with a person when it’s a victim of human trafficking. They receive a temporary resident permit with the work permit.
The same with the Ukrainians. They came with a temporary resident permit and they receive a work permit. Well, they should do the same with refugee claimants.
T. K.: Okay, well, it seems to make sense because if your claim is being decided, if you have to wait for it to be decided, a lot of bad things can happen to in between if you don’t have enough funds to sustain yourself. What is the kind of work, in your experience, that newcomers with these temporary permits would be doing? What do they do to make ends meet while they’re waiting? What would they do when they’re waiting for their status?
L. R.: Well, if they have a work permit, immediately they start looking for a job. Many of the women that we have been accommodating, they were nurses in their country. They go to school here and they become personal support workers and they start getting into the workforce, and also to help them more with their families and being preparing themselves to present their case.
Because the case will be here in one or two years. And in that case, at least they already have employment. And the children will be a little bit better off economically.
T. K.: Sure. That is a long time to wait and to be essentially in limbo before you know if you’re going to be allowed to stay. Do you think that the government is listening to you? Do you have their ear to make these changes so that people can start their new life on the right foot?
L. R.: I’m always hopeful and we can be seeing the changes, like the Minister of Immigration did with the work permit to accelerate it. Now in the formsis the question “Do you want to receive now your work permit?” And when the person do the medical exams, then the issue what I’m looking is that they can expedite the process. Because when they do the Acknowledgment immediately they do the medical exams, and they can receive the work permit immediately. And tthat will give them a possibility to move out from the shelter system, to really start a life here, and to be able to focus on the refugee process.
T. K.: Okay, well, it sounds like common sense to me, Loly. I hope that these things do get streamlined because it would really give these folks a better chance at building their life sooner and hopefully get to stay here and continue contributing and enjoying Canadian society.
Thank you so much for joining us, Loly. Loly Rico is the executive director of FCJ Refugee Centre in Toronto.
L. R.: Thank you.