Novel app helps immigrants, refugees adjust to life in B.C.

By answering an anonymous questionnaire, newcomers receive a tailored guide on topics such as Medical Services Plan registration, schools, employment, social insurance numbers, child tax credits, and government programs.

A local non-profit launched a new app this week to help newly arrived immigrants adjust to life in British Columbia.

One of the biggest problems new immigrants face upon arrival is figuring out how to register for health care, enrol their kids into school, and get a driver’s licence.

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Arrival Advisor is looking to fix all that, combining how to guides, government and NGO directories, as well as tips on how to navigate a new life in B.C. all in one handy place.

“It's really all right there in the app,” said PeaceGeek’s Patrick Estey.

The Arrival Advisor app is free to download on Google Play or the Apple Store.
The Arrival Advisor app is free to download on Google Play or the Apple Store. - Screenshot/Arrival Advisor app

Over the last few weeks, Estey said PeaceGeeks has been visiting immigration centres around the province, teaching people who work with newcomers how to use the app. The plan, he said, was to get the word out to high schools where there’s a big international student community, as well as to people still in their home countries getting ready to immigrate to Canada.

Immigrants to British Columbia come from a wide variety of places, so in addition to English, the app is offered in French and Arabic. Over the next few months, Estey said developers will add options in both simplified and traditional Chinese, Korean, Punjabi and Tagalog.

This isn’t the first time PeaceGeeks has looked for digital solutions to ease the lives of people caught up in the biggest global refugee crisis since World War II. In 2016, the non-profit built Services Advisor, an app targeted to help refugees across Jordan, Turkey and Kenya, among other countries.

This time around, the app is all for new Canadians, though so far, much of the information is limited to British Columbia.

PeaceGeeks built the app with $750,000 worth of funding from Google in 2017, and in 2018, the Province of British Columbia also chipped in.

The app comes on the heels of a year where B.C.’s population grew by over 70,000, most of which was due to the arrival of new immigrants. (In the Tri-Cities, new arrivals made up about five per cent of the population, according to the last census in 2016.)

Though the province is not sitting on the edge of a war zone, access to information remains one of the biggest barriers for newcomers, with one in three new arrivals struggling to access basic services, according to a 2015 Vancouver Immigrant Survey.

Another unplanned bonus, said Estey, “One of my colleagues just moved here from Alberta, and she's actually finding it pretty useful."

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