Settlement agencies in B.C. are expecting wait lists for English classes to grow after the federal government cut funding to the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada program in the province, also known as LINC. 

The Immigrant Services Society of B.C. is facing a $300,000 shortfall, equal to a nine per cent cut to its LINC classes. 

As a result, English language classes will be lost in Richmond, Vancouver, and Burnaby and staff are also expected to receive layoff notices. 

LINC service providers like ISSofBCS.U.C.C.E.S.S., and Mosaic already have wait lists of up to one year, with hundreds of newcomers waiting for English classes. 

In Surrey, where a large number of refugees are settling, the wait list at S.U.C.C.E.S.S. for English classes currently sits at 1300 people. 

At Mosaic's North Vancouver LINC program, the wait list has more than 700 names on it. 

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A volunteer with the Muslim Food Bank uses handouts to help Syrian refugees understand Canadian culture and language. (CBC News)

"It has a huge impact, because when they're not studying, it delays their ability to communicate in daily life," said Nina Miller, the senior manager of language programs at Mosaic.

Service providers were told the federal government is reducing funding based on landing numbers of immigrants and refugees in B.C.

They were told funding is being redistributed proportionately, so other provinces where more newcomers are arriving, could see funding increases. 

Frustration and isolation

The Muslim Food Bank says refugees on wait lists are feeling frustrated and isolated, and, as a result, the organization has started free conversational English classes for newcomers.

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Ashraf Mohammed with the Muslim Food Bank said the wait list for federally funded English classes could be up to a year, so volunteers decided to start their own program. (CBC News)

"There's a huge wait list," said organizer Ashraf Mohammed. "Some people have been waiting a year and we felt there was a need for them to be able to at least be conversational [in] English," 

"If they have to converse with the teachers about their children, and even going out shopping and doing basic things like travelling, so we thought at least we can get them to speak conversational English, we've overcome a huge hurdle."

There are classes several times a week in downtown Vancouver and Coquitlam, and the volunteer-run program hopes to soon expand to Richmond, Burnaby and Surrey. 

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A group of Syrian refugees meet several times a week, to learn English from volunteers with the Muslim Food Bank. (Bal Brach/CBC News)

​"I can't even begin to explain what it means to them," said Mohammed. "It's like giving them a lifeboat to actually start communicating."

​But while settlement service agencies applaud the Muslim Food Bank initiative, they worry about the future of federally-funded programs.

"It's really great to hear about these sprouting up, but it really is no replacement for the program that can give immigrants and refugees the training they need from trained teachers ... who at the end of their study can provide them with the certificate they can take to apply for citizenship," said Lisa Herrara, lead instructional coordinator at ISSofBC's Language College. 

 "There really is no replacing that."


To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: Settlement agencies worried about cuts to language programs in B.C.