Letter: Canada should fully waive travel loans for refugees

For many years, refugee advocates have called for amendments to the Immigration Loans Program, which provides new immigrants and refugees with loans to cover the costs of their relocation to Canada. Refugees make up 98% of Immigration Loans Program users, and the burden of repaying these loans has often hindered their ability to settle in Canada.

In February, Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada amended the program to discontinue the practice of charging interest on loans and extend the loan repayment period. While these changes were commendable, the ongoing requirement for refugees to fund their travel to Canada will still leave many with significant financial burdens.

Letter

April 4, 2018

Dear Minister Hussen,

On behalf of the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue, Citizens for Public Justice, Mennonite Central Committee, and World Renew, we would like to express our sincere support of the recent changes to the Immigration Loans Program. As a collective representing various Christian faith groups across Canada, we are pleased to see action that prioritizes the well-being of refugees in our country.

For many years, charging interest on immigration loans hindered Canada’s ability to offer a full welcome to refugees. In light of this, we applaud the government’s move to halt further accumulation of interest on outstanding loans and to provide interest free loans. These are important policy changes that will better allow refugees to settle into their new lives in Canada.

We urge you to continue with this progress and wholly phase out travel loan repayment for refugees.

The Government of Canada’s 2015 evaluation of the Immigration Loans Program found that requiring refugees to repay travel loans negatively affects their ability to settle: it makes it difficult to pay for basic necessities, adds substantial stress, and inhibits their ability to take full advantage of settlement services, particularly language training.

The evaluation also indicated that the average sum of loans issued from 2002 to 2014 stood at only $12.7 million/year. For less than 40 cents per Canadian annually, the government could fully absorb these costs moving forward. In the long run, doing away with the loan program would be good value for money, since newcomers would be able to get on their feet quicker, rely less on other government resources, and start paying taxes sooner.

When your government resettled 25,000 Syrian refugees between November 4, 2015 and February 29, 2016, you were right to exempt these refugees from the financial stresses associated with travel loans. Now, we are asking that you extend this consideration to all refugees resettled to Canada.

We look forward to your response.

Signed,

Mike Hogeterp

Director, Centre for Public Dialogue

Joe Gunn

Executive Director, Citizens for Public Justice

Brian Dyck

National Migration & Resettlement Program Coordinator, Mennonite Central Committee

Rebecca Walker

Refugee Coordinator, World Renew