Calgary

Phone app for immigrants and refugees designed to make settlement easier

A new smartphone app for newcomers will give them everything they need to get started in Alberta — at the swipe of a screen.

App covers everything from accessing housing to education

The Welcome to Alberta app is in English to begin with but other languages will follow. The app will be updated regularly to keep information up to date. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

A new smartphone app for newcomers will give them everything they need to get started in Alberta — all at the swipe of a screen.

The app, called Welcome to Alberta, has been custom designed for immigrants and refugees and built in-house by Immigrant Services Calgary, a non-profit that provides settlement services in the city.

Users can scroll around the app to get information on finding a place to live, using employment services and accessing health care, education and language programs.

Newcomers can also track their settlement using milestones, custom to-do lists and check-in points, taking them from preparing to arrive in Canada to things to do in the weeks and months after landing here.

Daniel Wu with Immigrant Services Calgary says the Welcome to Alberta app came out of research regarding what information newcomers need to succeed and how best to get that information into their hands on arrival. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"We did research before we started and we found out the first thing newcomers do when they arrive here is get a phone and a bank account," said Daniel Wu, settlement platform and virtual services co-ordinator with Immigrant Services Calgary.

"So how do we provide information more easily and make services more accessible for them? That's why we developed the app," said Wu. 

"Nowadays, everyone carries a mobile device."

Wu says the app is initially in English as it rolls out but they plan to add several more languages to make it more accessible.

"I wished this was around six months back when I moved here," said newcomer Seema Khan, who came to Calgary from India. "If you're new in the city, you're already struggling a lot, especially if you don't have anyone you know."

"If you are new in a city and you don't know where to go or what to do, you can just download this app," said Khan. "I wouldn't have had to run to so many different organizations to find help and support, it would have been there right in my hand."

Newcomer Seema Khan arrived in Calgary from India six months ago. She says the app would have been a big help in those early days when she had to navigate multiple agencies and a huge amount of information by travelling around the city. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"You just look for what you need: obtain you SIN number, apply for your PR card, open a bank account. It's very useful and has contact information and services offered by the government," said Khan.

As well as helping immigrants and refugees in the city, the app will also help newcomers with disabilities and those who move to rural areas overcome barriers like transportation and geography. 

"One our pillars is innovation and our team has made Alberta the first market to come up with this app," said Hyder Hassan, CEO of Immigrant Services Calgary.

Hassan says 58 per cent of newcomers don't know about services available to them or can't access services.

"So imagine a new world where right at the airport white hatters are giving you this information. I wish I had this app when I moved to Canada," said Hassan.

"Most newcomers are well versed in technology, and it's a one-stop-shop on their phones and it helps promote all of our sector agencies," said Hassan.

The Welcome to Alberta app was funded by the federal government. 

Hassan says the app will be continually updated and a new version will be launched in the next few months.

It's available for download on Android devices at the Google Play Store and for iPhone at the Apple App Store.

About the Author

Dan McGarvey

Journalist

Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, only using an iPhone and mobile tech. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at: dan.mcgarvey@cbc.ca or tweet him @DanMcGarvey