CALGARY — Canada may have to consider updating future supports for Ukrainians seeking refuge from war, federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said Monday.
"I've been hearing from provinces and from municipalities across the country who have seen large numbers of people arrive that they are struggling to keep up," Fraser told a news conference in Calgary.
"It's something we're going to have to better understand before we develop the next steps in support for Ukrainians.
"We want to make sure we don't just get people here but we set them up for success when they arrive."
Ottawa announced in March a three-month extension, until July 15, for Ukrainian evacuees to apply for a three-year emergency visa. They then have until the end of March 2024 to journey to Canada, where the federal government would offer them a one-time income support payment and two weeks of hotel accommodations.
Just over 610,000 people had been approved to come to Canada under the program as of March 16, and about 190,000 have arrived.
The arrival of large numbers of Ukrainians is creating a crisis for immigrant settlement groups that saythey are having difficulty finding housing for the evacuees.
Last week, the Centre for Newcomers in Calgary announced it is seeking 100 families to sponsor and house people arriving in the city while they try to find jobs, benefits and long-term accommodation.
The centre said Ukrainians arriving in other Canadian cities are heading to Calgary because rents are lower than in larger cities such as Toronto and Vancouver.
Fraser said groups providing aid aren't struggling with just costs but also capacity in the system. In a challenging labour market, he said, even finding staff at settlement agencies to provide language training or employment assistance is "a real, serious challenge."
"This has been a unique program in that we've developed it in response to events that were playing out in real time," Fraser said.
"As a government we're continuing to look at the different options to figure out what may come, trying to get an understanding of how many people, as we get closer to the July 15th extended application deadline, will end up arriving in Canada over the next year."
Fraser said Ottawa will be working with municipalities and provinces to identify the right path forward and the role of each level of government.
"The benefits have been extended until the end of March of next year for people who arrive up until then," he said.
"Additional measures will have to be the topic of continued discussion so we can identify what the federal government ought to be responsible for as compared to provinces and communities who are attracting large numbers of people."
Fraser said while cities like Calgary and Toronto are struggling to deal with large numbers of evacuees, Newfoundland and Labrador is trying to attract more people to fill gaps in its labour force.
"The right solutions in different parts of the country may require a more tailored response, which is why we need to continue to have those conversations at a more local level."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2023.
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press