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Immigrant settlement work in Canada: limits and possibilities for professionalization.

TODAY, CANADA RECEIVES about one-quarter million immigrants and refugees annually from all regions of the world. (1) This is in addition to an already large foreign-born population making up one-fifth of the total population, a fact which speaks to the importance of immigration as one of the pillars of Canadian nation building. Canada also has a wide range of publicly funded settlement services, perhaps leading the way in this respect among traditional countries of immigration in the Western world. Moreover, settlement work with immigrants has been practiced in Canada since the beginning of the twentieth century.

Despite its long history, however, Canadian settlement work has yet to establish itself as a full-fledged profession. Currently, it is in a state of professional limbo in which three forms of practice coexist but not necessarily on even terms. One form has its origins in the original "settlement work" with the urban poor and survives to this day through volunteerism and "amateurism." This form of settlement work can be considered as a loose occupation. A second form emerged when social work became interested in immigrants as another vulnerable population and developed a specialty accordingly. Social work's resulting influence in settlement work is evident in the growing number of its graduates among the leadership and, to a lesser extent, in the ranks of immigrant service agencies. Yet, the example of social work may have been conducive to the emergence of a third form of practice, which amounts to the nucleus of a settlement work profession in its own right. This form can be seen in the professional development programs of several provincial umbrella associations but also in the national body of work to define and operationalize immigrant settlement work.

Using mainly primary and secondary archival data, this paper portrays the historical emergence of settlement work in broad strokes and explores alternative scenarios for its future. Is settlement work here to stay or will it fade away as an occupation? If the former is the case, will it stay in its current state of limbo or morph into one of the coexisting forms of practice? If the latter is the case, which form will it take on?

The paper acknowledges the uniqueness of settlement work in that its clients have to be foreign-born, and thus the occupational vulnerability that may result from its dependence on a nonnative client base. Nevertheless, barring an unprecedented shift in Canadian immigration policy, the need for immigrant settlement work will always be there. The paper argues that settlement work faces a certain choice between the status quo and incorporation into social work as a specialty or development into an independent profession, with the loose occupational form being on a secular decline. It goes on to argue that how the public funding regime of the settlement service sector evolves will be critical for the outcome. If the current, predominantly federal, and short-term funding regime does not change, the occupational status quo of settlement work will continue to prevail. This scenario includes ongoing piecemeal efforts at the provincial level to define a space for settlement work in the broader field of social service work. Alternatively, if a predominantly provincial and long-term funding regime emerges, settlement work will be on a path to some form of professionalization. Should this regime change occur, actors within settlement work will have a say in determining its particular professional form--a branch of social work or an independent profession.

The first section briefly reviews the sociology of professions literature as it concerns professional development or professionalization. This review sets the stage for the remainder of the paper. In the second section, I describe the study methodology in its broad contours. The third section examines the historical development of Canadian settlement work in its three forms by employing concepts drawn from the literature. In the fourth section, I explore prospects for settlement work by focusing on its relation to the state at both federal and provincial levels. The paper concludes by discussing the implications of this analysis for the broader field of professions.


The sociological literature on professionalization can be divided into three broad strands: (1) traditional class analysis; (2) sociology of work approach; and (3) historical institutionalism. Regardless of its different theoretical underpinnings (Marxian, Weberian, or mixed), traditional class analysis sees professionalism as a system of inequality and stratification based on special knowledge and skills, and professionalization as the creation of market monopoly for that expertise. As Larson (1977:xvi) puts it, professionalization is the "process by which producers of special services [seek] to constitute and control a market for their expertise" (see also Collins 1979:132; Larkin 1983:15; Larson 1990:30). In this context, the original Weberian concept of social closure is employed to describe professionalization as a dual process of market closure and usurpation (Macdonald 1995; Murphy 1988; Parkin 1979; Witz 1992). Collins (1990a) goes one step further by adding that, as occupations achieve market closure for their expertise, they also form a status group with a shared identity, ideals, and standards within the division of labor. Thus, achievement of market monopoly and status group attainment are the two dimensions of professionalization as conceived by class analysts.

In contrast to the formalistic emphasis of class analysis, the sociology of work approach focuses on the substantive aspect of professional development. While many class analysts--especially those of the Weberian persuasion--question the functional necessity of knowledge and skills associated with a particular profession and dismiss credentials simply as artificially created barriers to entry into professional practice (see, e.g., Collins 1979, 1990b; Murphy 1988; Parkin 1979), this approach puts the content of specialized work at the center stage of professional formation and views credentialing as a legitimate, if not flawless, measurement of expertise required for that type of work (Abbott 1988; Freidson 1970, 1994, 2001; Goode 1960; Wilensky 1964). Consequently, how this theoretically derived and relatively abstract expertise is acquired through education and training, as well as recognized, forms part of any professional project. Moreover, according to the sociology of work approach, control over the technical terms of work is key to establishing a "jurisdiction" in the division of labor.

For Abbott (1988:59-85) in particular, claiming jurisdiction over a line of work is tantamount to professional development (see also Freidson 2001:36-60). Abbott distinguishes three arenas where jurisdictional claims are made: public opinion, legal system, and workplace. A jurisdictional claim made before the public (i.e., civil society in North America but the state in Continental Europe) gives a unified image of the professional project for the socially and culturally legitimate control of a particular kind of work. This is usually followed by a more specific claim in the legal system (legislature, courts, and administrative structures), which may include "absolute monopoly of practice and of public payments, rights of self-discipline and of unconstrained employment, control of professional training, of recruitment, and of licensing" (Abbott 1988:59). In contrast to the formal and categorical nature of public and legal claims, the workplace is an arena of informal and ambiguous claim reflecting the fuzziness of reality on the ground and revealing the diversity of the professional workforce (practitioners and other individuals "assimilated" into the profession). These claims can be settled explicitly and formally with the establishment of a full and final jurisdiction or one of several shared jurisdictional types, including subordination under another profession as in the relation of nursing to medicine (cf. Witz 1992:39-69). Any such settlement typically coexists with implicit settlement by client differentiation in the workplace. Depending on the nature of clientele, this type of settlement may be between two or more professions, or within the same profession.

The external milieu of professionalization that the sociology of work approach alludes to is more central to what I would like to call the historical institutionalist approach. As early as the 1970s, Freidson (1970) and Johnson (1972) drew attention to historically and institutionally contingent ways of controlling professional practice. A large body of work taking its cue from these pioneers has accumulated since then (see Abbott 1993; Evetts 2003; Sciulli 2005 for a survey). More recent studies have taken up the actual dynamics of professionalization within their historical political-economic contexts. For example, Berman (2006) shows that political mobilization, competition, and resolution to create an organizational representative for British doctors in the first half of the nineteenth century bore heavily on the type of professionalization that British medicine would achieve with the Medical Registration Act of 1858. Going back to seventeenth-century France, Sciulli (2007) discovers the "first sustained professionalism project in Western history" in the form of narrative painting, which was nourished by the royally sponsored Paris visual Academie as an institution of training and as a place of work for narrative painters. In two other demonstrations of the historical contingency of professional projects, Hanlon (1998) examines the political fragmentation of British service professions in the 1980s and 1990s along the lines of "social service professionalism" and "commercialized professionalism," while Andrews and Waerness (2011) reveal the deprofessionalization of Norwegian public health nursing during the same period as a result of the gradual circumscription of its jurisdiction by the central government.

Perhaps the most important contribution of historical institutionalism to the sociology of professions literature has been in the area of regulation. While it may be true that control over the technical content of work is at the core of professional projects, achieving full professional status goes through control over the political-economic terms of work in concrete historical settings. And this is where the state comes in to play an indispensable, if context-dependent, role. In the Western world, Continental Europe and Anglo-American societies provide the main contrast as to how the state plays that role. Professionalization in Continental Europe is "from above" and very much a state-centric process (Berman 2006; Sciulli 2005). In contrast, the process is rather civil society-driven in the Anglo-American context. Even there, however, professional regulation (including self-regulation) is made possible by the legislative authorization and substantive intermediation of the state. In the federal cases of Canada and the United States, professions and trades are regulated at the subnational (provincial/state) level and in ways conferring different degrees of autonomy on them (Adams 2009, 2010; Girard and Bauder 2007; Kleiner 2006).

As reviewed briefly in its three variants above, existing literature on professionalization sheds light on some key dynamics that are at play, such as search for market monopoly and autonomy in the division of labor, or jurisdictional claim in general, and status group formation--all done through organized mobilization and direct or indirect state involvement. How do these dynamics unfold in the case of settlement work? More specifically, what is the organizational capacity of Canadian settlement work to elicit public and state support at both federal and provincial levels for its professional development? Has it actually made a jurisdictional claim and, if so, at what level (public, legal, and workplace) and with what result? Has there been a settlement work community with a distinctive identity, ideals, and values? This paper tries to answer these questions. It also brings in an important factor that the literature has not paid sufficient, if any, attention to, that is, the economic resource base of professional projects. A focus on the funding regime of the Canadian settlement service sector provides valuable insight into the future of settlement work in this country.


Canadian settlement work is a useful and interesting case for the study of professionalization in a number of ways. First, it is a credible project in which many of the key processes highlighted by the literature are unfolding. Among traditional countries of immigration, Canada arguably has the most advanced settlement sector in terms of state and civil society organization, scope of services, client coverage, and workforce training. In the United States, for example, settlement services are largely limited to refugees resettled from overseas; for other groups, immigration policy "starts and ends at the border" (Bloemraad 2006:2). Likewise, settlement services in Australia are generally reserved for noneconomic classes although these services are more organized and spread wider than their U.S. counterparts (Siemiatycki and Triadafilopoulos 2010:7-11). Second, Canadian settlement work is also a complex case not only because of the often conflicting federal-provincial dynamics that it is subject to but also because of the uneven development of the occupation across the provinces and regions. This makes for an interesting yet challenging case study. Third, settlement work in Canada has a long history, as all professional projects do, to allow for observations of the changing and enduring patterns across time and space (provinces). It has been practiced for more than a century. Fourth, despite that long history, Canadian settlement work is still an unfinished project with many unknowns concerning its future trajectory. The current plasticity of the project allows for this study to explore alternative scenarios for its future that are testable in the long run.

This study is part of a larger research program on the development of the settlement service sector in Canada, including policy and program development, organization of state and civil society institutions, and professionalization of settlement work. Under the program, two projects have already been implemented. One project examined the historical organization of settlement services in Canada especially since the end of the Second World War at both federal and provincial levels and from the perspectives of programming, funding, and delivery (Turegun 2012). The project gathered a significant amount of primary and secondary archival data--at national, provincial, and, to a lesser extent, local levels--pertaining to civil society organizations as employers and advocates in the settlement service sector, players in the conception and definition of settlement service, and public funders of the sector. This source will be tapped extensively here in discussing the development of settlement work and its economic resource base. A secondary data source is a project surveying and interviewing settlement workers and settlement agency representatives in the Province of Ontario from 2009 to 2010 (Turegun 2011). Although the project targeted particularly those workers who had been born, educated, and trained abroad in areas other than settlement work, it did touch on professional development issues, most notably, ideals and values among settlement workers as an occupational group. Thus, the study underlies my discussion of status group formation among settlement workers. Complementing these two sources is a further archival research into the early history of Canadian settlement work, settlement sector-federal government relations, and the three most developed professional training programs in the country, namely, those of British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario.


The development of settlement work in Canada was not a linear process. As will be shown below, the initial loose occupational form never disappeared. Rather, it was transmuted and articulated with two new forms that would emerge in the late twentieth century, namely, a specialization within social work and a professional project on its own. However, each form represented a different configuration of jurisdictional claim, status group aspiration, organizational setting, and state involvement.

Settlement Work by Ethno-Religious Devotion

What is known as settlement work with immigrants today has its terminological and occupational origin in the settlement house movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1884, a group of Oxford and Cambridge university students established the first settlement house (Toynbee Hall) in the East End slums of London, England, with the idea of trying to "bridge the gap between rich and poor, between educated and non-educated, by asking concerned individuals, the 'settlers' and ... all those who wanted to work with the poor to move into the poor areas and "settle' there" (Amin 1987). Transmitted across the Atlantic shortly there after, the settlement house movement maintained its focus on poverty in the inner city but with a twist. In the context of North American urban boom propelled by immigration, this meant working with the poor in neighborhoods with ethnic and immigrant concentration (Carson 1990; Trolander 1987). In Canada, settlement houses (which numbered at least 13 by 1920) were located in such neighborhoods of mainly Toronto and Montreal but also Winnipeg (Allen 1971:11-12; Amin 1987; Irving, Parsons, and Bellamy 1995; Jennissen and Lundy 2011:7-8). Some of these houses, notably, Toronto's University Settlement, Central Neighbourhood House, and St. Christopher House, have survived into the present day.

The settlement house movement was based on the (Christian) social gospel, an ideology aiming to alleviate poverty and other human ills through social reform. As "live-in" residents in their adopted urban neighborhoods, settlement house workers were engaged in holistic community work ranging from artistic and skills development to neighborhood cleanup and maintenance (Carson 1990; Trolander 1987). They were also typically white, middle class, and educated women who were motivated by a sense of altruism and duty, and who thus voluntarily gave their time and service. Social reformism, including "live-in" residency and holistic community work, did not survive the professionalization drive in the 1920s and 1930s of social work, which would nevertheless claim both the settlement house movement and the charitable organization society movement as its predecessors (Ehrenreich 1985; Lundblad 1995). What has remained of the settlement house movement for immigrant settlement work in particular is a couple of characteristics bearing on the latter's occupational status: an altruistic system of identity, ideals, and values shaped by faith and a largely volunteer workforce dominated by women of mainstream, middle class, and higher educational background.

In fact, Canada's first immigrant aid agencies assumed these characteristics, also adding an element of ethnicity. Emerging in the early to mid-twentieth century, they were few and far between and targeted mainly specific ethno-religious groups such as Jews and Italians (Amin 1987; CCR 1998; Hawkins [1972] 1988:291-302). Nevertheless, along with settlement houses, they helped shape immigrant settlement work for the second and third quarters of the twentieth century. As in the case of settlement houses, their workforce was female- and volunteer-dominated. Volunteers came from among established members of the targeted ethno-religious communities receiving immigrants, as well as from mainstream (i.e., English- or French-speaking) communities. Where there were paid staff, they were recruited on an ad hoc basis and worked mostly part time.

In the 50 odd years following the founding of the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society of Canada (JIAS) as the country's first immigrant-specific aid agency in 1922, settlement work existed in a loose occupational form. Organizations serving immigrants--settlement houses, immigrant-specific aid agencies, and generic service agencies--did not make any jurisdictional claim in the public arena or the legal system for "immigrant settlement work." Toronto's settlement houses did lobby the University of Toronto successfully to have courses in social work for their workers (Amin 1987). However, this took place in the context of an emerging social work profession laying claim to settlement work. The only jurisdictional claim that can be attributed to immigrant settlement work in this period was of an informal type and workplace based. Immigrant-specific aid agencies and (to the extent that they served immigrants) settlement houses and generic service agencies were, to use Abbott's terminology, the sites of jurisdictional settlement by client differentiation between social work and immigrant settlement work as well as within social work. Nor was there any occupational status accorded to immigrant settlement work independently of social work and "settlement work" in general. Working with immigrants outside these two forms of practice usually meant volunteering, which hindered occupational status group formation.

Institutionally as well, immigrant settlement work was in its infancy during this period. In 1966, the Federal Department of Manpower and Immigration conducted a survey of organizations, which provided some level of service or assistance to immigrants. Casting the net very wide, the survey identified 337 such organizations, of which only 106 were serving all immigrants and the rest (231) specific ethnic or religious groups. Moreover, only 22 of those 106 organizations were providing "diversified services of major value" (quoted in Hawkins [1972] 1988:292-93]). Writing in the early 1970s, Hawkins came up with a much smaller number: "In the whole of Canada at the present time, there are only six non-sectarian agencies ... which really qualify as specialized, professional community organizations serving all immigrants" (p. 293). It is also worth mentioning that the National Inter-Faith Immigration Committee, which brought together 16 religious denominations and the JIAS in 1968, was the only national or provincial association of any type that emerged in the sector serving immigrants on an ethnic, religious, or nonsectarian basis prior to the 1970s. As far as funding is concerned, service agencies were financed mainly at the local level by individual and (ethnic, religious, and nonsectarian) community contributions. The federal government began to support settlement services only by small, short-term, ad hoc, and conditional (project-based) grants in the 1950s and the provinces such as Ontario and Quebec followed suit in the 1960s (Amin 1987; Hawkins [1972] 1988:308-10). (2)

Occupational Lift and Branching Out

Two institutional developments in the 1970s and 1980s gave immigrant settlement work what Sciulli (2005) would call an "occupational lift." One development was the relative shift in geographic and demographic origin of immigrants to Canada from Europe and its white-Christian population to the developing world with its geographic, racial, and religious diversity. The shift began in the 1970s after Canada removed racial preferences from its immigration policy between 1962 and 1967. It accelerated with the government- and community-supported arrival of refugees en masse from Southeast Asia in the early 1980s and the establishment of a refugee program thereafter. The diversity of new immigrant cohorts and of their needs brought settlement and integration issues to the public attention at a level never seen before. The other and related development was the programmatic innovation of the federal government in the early 1970s concerning the inclusion and integration of ethno-cultural and immigrant communities. It adopted a multiculturalism policy in 1971 with some level of funding for ethno-cultural community programs and, more importantly from the perspective of this paper, reorganized its settlement program in 1974 (Vineberg 2012:27-29). The Immigrant Settlement and Adaptation Program in particular provided a degree of stable funding for the few existing community-based settlement service agencies that were operating in the largest urban centers, and also helped new ones spring up across the country. With the impulse of federal funding, most of the ethno- and faith-specific agencies would in time begin to serve immigrants from all groups while, at the same time, keeping their original names as a homage to their heritage.

The loose occupational form defined by ethnically and religiously motivated voluntarism still had a significant, if altered, role to play after 1974. With the shift in source of immigration from Europe to the developing world, settlement service agencies faced more diverse and complex newcomer needs. In response, agencies began to recruit volunteers and, with their improved funding situation, to hire what social workers call "paraprofessionals" (Blum 1990; Potocky-Tripodi 2002) from among ethno-religious communities, which formed agencies' client base. In many cases, the knowledge of a particular client group's native language was sufficient for someone to be hired and serve that group. Although being served by people of the same ethno-linguistic background provided a comfort level for newcomers in the transition period, it carried occupational risks such as erosion of client confidentiality and settlement worker dependency on a unique client base. Ethno-linguistic affinity with the clients served would diminish in time as a recruitment criterion. Reliance on volunteers as part of the workforce would follow a similar trend. However, both practices of the loose occupational form have remained a significant feature of the settlement work scene to this day by carving and maintaining an informal, workplace-based jurisdiction by client differentiation at service agencies.

In addition to these loose occupational practices, settlement service agencies also came to include settlement work of a new type as well as more established social work. Social work, which had laid claim to the whole of original settlement work in its drive for professionalization in the early twentieth century (Ehrenreich 1985:43-77), became interested particularly in settlement work with immigrants as a "distinct branch" (Neuwirth 1991) or "special province" (Valtonen 2008) in the 1980s. For instance, expecting the mass arrival of refugees from Southeast Asia, the British Columbia Association of Social Workers (BCASW 1980) issued guidelines for social work practice with this new type of clients. Later in the decade, Canadian social workers would approach work with immigrants more programmatically by identifying service areas and proposing related frameworks for education and training in an increasingly multicultural and multiracial Canada (Blum 1990; Christensen 1990). Presently, social work is a regular human resource provider for the settlement service sector to fill its key leadership positions and those requiring a certain level of service expertise. Although social work still has issues of training for its practitioners (Yan and Chan 2010), it has now laid claim to settlement work as a client-differentiated subfield both in Canada (George 2007:231-53) and abroad, particularly, the United States (Potocky-Tripodi 2002) and Europe (Valtonen 2008:21-38).

Along with social work's "occupational imperialism" to use Larkin's (1983) apt term, an autonomous project began to take shape in immigrant settlement work. While building on decades of expertise since the beginning of the settlement house movement, the autonomous project concerned for the first time all main occupational aspects of settlement work as a field of its own. As will be detailed below, the holistic nature of the project became evident in its making a jurisdictional claim in different arenas and in its attempt to lift the occupational status of settlement workers. To do so, and by doing so, it spawned numerous organizations in the field and gained political representation of an advisory type, if not regulatory status of any type, at both federal and provincial levels.

The Emergence of an Autonomous Form of Settlement Work

Settlement service agencies, which had proliferated across the country following the federal government's programming and funding innovation in the early 1970s, began to form provincial and regional umbrella associations later in the decade to have their collective voice heard. As can be seen in Table 1 below, by 2007, all provinces or regions came to have umbrella associations, which vary greatly in membership size. It must be noted that all of these provincial and regional associations, as well as the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), are councils of agencies serving immigrants directly or indirectly (some of which are themselves councils) whereas the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance (CISSA) is exclusively a council of councils (provincial and regional associations). Individual service agencies across the country display a great deal of diversity in staff training and expertise, service orientation (generic vs. immigrant-specific) and range (comprehensive vs. specialized), target population (all-inclusive vs. ethno-, faith-, or entry class-specific), organizational base (cross-cultural vs. ethno- or faith-specific), and operational motive (community-based and not for profit vs. corporate and for profit). However, what they have in common is that, aside from their dependence on government funding as will be discussed shortly, they are sites of jurisdiction shared by settlement workers, social workers, paraprofessionals, and volunteers. While professionalization is driven by staff in positions of (directorial, managerial, and supervisory) authority, it has its detractors among frontline settlement workers and paraprofessionals who are concerned about the possible implications of accreditation and certification for their jobs. To use the Weberian language, this concern is about social closure that would accompany professionalization. It is also important to note that, despite several experiments in the past, there is currently no settlement workers' organization of any type in the country.

Some of the provincial associations, along with independent faith-based groups, were involved in the founding of the CCR in 1986. Although the CCR was initially limited in its focus to refugee issues, it expanded its activities in time to the area of immigration and settlement by forming a Working Group on Immigration and Settlement. The working group is governed by a steering committee representing provincial and regional umbrella associations. From the outset, the CCR approached professional development issues in the settlement service sector from a community-based perspective and as part of its advocacy work for immigrant and refugee rights. This did not always sit well with the main funder of the sector, that is, the federal government. Thus, with prodding from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), the more conciliatory and "professionally" focused CISSA was formed in 2005. The CCR and the two largest provincial umbrella associations (Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants [OCASI] and Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes refugiees et immigrantes [TCRI]), which shared the former's vision of community- and advocacy-based settlement work, had reservations about CISSA (such as its proposed incorporation) but joined it along with the rest of the provincial and regional umbrella associations. However, this uneasy relationship was not sustainable and the CCR, together with OCASI and the TCRI, withdrew from CISSA in 2008, thus leaving the latter as an alliance of the Atlantic and Western umbrella associations. The tension between the two parties sometimes stays beneath the surface, sometimes comes to the surface, but always simmers to complicate the professional development of settlement work.

At the national level, the CCR marked a milestone in 1998 by presenting settlement work as a unique field of expertise. Produced under the guidance of a national steering committee, the document titled Best Settlement Practices: Settlement Services for Refugees and Immigrants in Canada (CCR 1998) defined the field, surveyed service landscape, identified core values underlying service standards and ideals, and showcased "best practices" in settlement service. While similar efforts had been made previously (see, e.g., Wilson 1990), the uniqueness of this document lay in the nationally organized consultative process that gave birth to it. Two years later, the CCR (2000) produced a second document, Canadian National Settlement Service Standards Framework, through a process similar to that of the first. The new document focused on the qualities that immigrants are entitled to expect in settlement workers and agencies serving them, also compiling a list of staff and organizational development tools from across Canada. This drive for professionalization received a boost when the federal government financed a five-year Voluntary Sector Initiative in 2000. The settlement sector benefited from that initiative in the form of a joint government-sector project, Strengthening Settlement Capacity Project, under which two national conferences were held (in 2001 and 2003) and four working groups formed to serve as standing bodies between the two conferences. One of these working groups---Working Group on Settlement Standards, Professionalization, and Accountability--was actually tasked to deal with professional development issues in the sector. A discussion paper commissioned by the working group further developed service standards at the program, agency, and practitioner levels (Tam 2003). Another outcome of the project was a pan-Canadian consultative body called the Settlement and Integration Joint Policy and Program Council, which still brings together representatives of the sector and two (federal and provincial) levels of government for dialogue on topical issues.

The momentum created by the Voluntary Sector Initiative led the CCR to take a renewed interest in professionalization, on the one hand, and mobilized forces outside Central Canada to push for the creation of CISSA, on the other. In 2004, the CCR adopted a resolution to seek funding for a feasibility study on professional certification and organized a workshop on professionalization in the sector (Turegun 2005). It followed up on these initiatives by striking up a National Task Force on Professionalization in the Settlement Sector in 2005. The task force included all provincial and regional umbrella associations as institutional members except for the TCRI, which nevertheless had an observer status (CCR 2005). The main activity of the task force in its three years of operation was a funding proposal submitted to CIC in 2007 to establish national occupational competencies and standards and to develop a training program for settlement workers by building on existing work. CIC did not fund the proposal, thus sending the task force into oblivion. Even before this decision, however, there were cracks within the task force along the lines mentioned above: The CCR's advocacy-focused, activist vision of settlement work had been in clash with a nonpolitical, "expert" settlement work envisioned by some members. The latter found a friendlier home at CISSA, which had purportedly come to fill the void for a pan-Canadian professional body of settlement service agencies (Policy Solutions Consulting 2005). Yet, given its dependence on CIC funding, CISSA has had a precarious existence especially after losing representation from the CCR and Central Canada. Its activities are limited largely to commissioning reports and holding meetings on particular aspects of immigrant settlement and integration.

Unlike its fractured public claim at the national level, settlement work has projected a more unified image in the provinces--the jurisdiction under which settlement service agencies operate and their workforce is regulated along with much of the Canadian labor force. Moreover, although settlement work has yet to make a legal claim for occupational regulation in any province, it has made significant strides in workforce training (mainly in the forms of on-the-job and in-service training) in some provinces. Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario have been particularly active in this respect and thus merit further consideration.

The Alberta Association of Immigrant Serving Agencies (AAISA) began work on the training needs of practitioners at its member agencies in the mid-1980s (AAISA 2010; Turegun 2005). After five years of deliberation and planning, the association and Grant MacEwan Community College launched a joint settlement worker training program in 1991. Following the completion of this pilot program in 1993, the association decided on an in-house approach to training. The result was the 2000 Alberta Framework of Competencies for Settlement Workers that formed the basis of a series of training modules. The association began to train settlement workers by using these modules in 2003 and certify the successful trainees, also considering their relevant prior learning and experience, in 2005. As it exists today, the province's Settlement Practitioners Training and Accreditation Program, offered by AAISA in house, trains and certifies settlement workers at three levels--Level 2 Practitioner, Level 3 Practitioner, and Mentor--in addition to a Level 1 at which trainees receive orientation from their agencies. In 2012, AAISA also launched a Management Training Program to address the workforce renewal needs of member agencies for middle and upper levels positions.

In British Columbia, a Multicultural/Settlement Certificate Program was offered as a joint initiative of the BC Settlement and Integration Workers Association (BCSIWA) and Vancouver Community College in the early to mid-1990s. However, the program folded in the winter of 1997 due to lack of enrollment (Information West Ltd. 1997a, 1997b). This came at a time when the Multilateral Task Force on Training, Career Pathing and Labour Mobility in the Community Social Service Sector in British Columbia was developing occupational competency frameworks for six sectors, including the settlement sector. The resultant 1998 Occupational Competencies Framework for the Immigrant and Multicultural Services Sector (partly reproduced in CCR 2000:appendix D) described the main purpose of the sector and the broad functions and activities practitioners carry out in order to fulfill that purpose. Performance indicators, knowledge specification, and value statements were also provided. Within this framework, the BCSIWA provided short-term training sessions to settlement workers across the province until it folded in the late 2000s. Meanwhile, in 2008, the framework itself was revised as Occupational Competencies Framework for Staff Providing Services to Immigrant and Multicultural Populations (reproduced in WPLAR 2010:appendix B). (3)

In 1987, OCASI and George Brown College undertook a pilot training project (Counselling Skills for Immigrant Settlement Workers) with funding and developmental support from the Ontario government. The outcome of that project was Immigrant Settlement Counselling: A Training Guide produced in 1991. OCASI updated the comprehensive guide in 2000 to reflect developments in service standards, performance measurement, occupational competencies, and antioppression framework of service delivery (OCASI 2000). One of the developments in service standards was a survey and codification of practices among the council's community-based member agencies (OCASI and COSTI 1999; see also OCASI 2001). In 2000, the council also launched a Professional Education and Training project ( under which it has been providing federally and provincially funded subsidy to individual settlement workers who take courses in relevant fields of study at approved postsecondary or private institutions in the province, as well as to member agencies that use external help for on-site group training to their staff. Moreover, under the Organizational Standards Initiative project ( launched in 2009, the council has established a set of voluntary organizational standards for the sector in Ontario and developed an online organizational self-assessment and self-help tool. Reflecting its activist vision of settlement work, OCASI recently announced the creation of a School of Social Justice to offer training for the staff of its member agencies as of Spring 2013 ( (4)

Despite the variation in their visioning of settlement work, local service agencies and provincial, regional, and national umbrella groups, as well as individual practitioners in the field, show a remarkable unity in making a case for the functional necessity and complexity of settlement work and for the professional equipment and dedication of its practitioners (Turegun 2005, 2013). This can be understood from the perspective of an aspiring profession to raise its status in the system of professions. However, Canadian settlement work faces several challenges to reaching a higher occupational status. First, as part of the broader social service sector, immigrant settlement work is a gendered occupation where women are over represented (CSPC-T and FSA 2006). Given the historically and generally disadvantaged position of female-dominated social service occupations and the lower status attached to them as a result, the gendered nature of settlement work poses a challenge to its status attainment goal. Second, immigrants and people of ethno-religious background are a main source of settlement workforce. The fact that these groups do not fare as well in the general labor market as mainstream groups do adds to the underprivileged position of settlement work. Third, terms of employment in the settlement service sector are particularly disadvantageous. Most practitioners work under precarious and materially unrewarding conditions. Fourth, practitioners have a status barrier to climb on account of the incompleteness of the settlement work project as revealed by the lack of professional representation (consider the fate of the BCSIWA), of a system of postsecondary training and certification, and of a state-sanctioned regulatory body.

All in all, from the 1970s to the 2000s, an autonomous professional project expanded its jurisdiction over Canadian settlement work significantly at the expense of the two earlier forms of practice based on ethnoreligious volunteerism and social work. However, the project may have stalled for some time now. It has not gained any new ground provincially or nationally in the last few years. The next section locates this stagnation in the settlement service sector's relations with the federal and provincial levels of government, particularly the public funding regime of the sector, and argues that a change of the funding regime is needed for the project to move forward.


The organization of settlement services in Canada has three components: programming, funding, and delivery. As a general rule, the first two components are a state responsibility and the last a civil society responsibility carried out by settlement service agencies. In this so-called partnership model, the federal government as primary state partner and provincial governments as secondary state partners program services and fund service agencies as civil society partners to deliver these services at the local community level. For the reasons to be given below, there is a big power imbalance or asymmetry inherent in this model between state and civil society partners, a condition that besets service agencies as sites of settlement work practice.

Settlement services have not only evolved over time but also greatly varied across federal and provincial jurisdictions. From its modest beginnings in the early 1970s, the federal settlement program has grown into a comprehensive, multilayered entity that it is today. The provinces lagged behind the federal government for the most part but became increasingly involved in immigrant integration and inclusion from the 1990s on. Yet, the extent of that involvement is very uneven across the provinces. The federal government is by far the largest funder of settlement services and allocates settlement program funds to the provinces and territories under a national formula based on a three-year rolling average of immigrant and refugee landings in each province and territory except for Quebec. (5) Although the federal government is not directly involved in service delivery, it sets the parameters of delivery for the services it programs and funds by defining eligibility criteria for service providers, recipients, activities, costs, and duration. To the extent that the provinces have settlement programming distinguishable from other social service programming (as not all of them do), they, too, fund settlement services by establishing eligibility criteria for their delivery.

This institutional setting includes several vulnerabilities for settlement service agencies and their workforce. First, unlike education, health, and other service sectors in which federal involvement is largely limited to the annual transfer of funds to the provinces and territories, the settlement sector is at the whim of the federal government. For example, when it wanted to get out of direct settlement programming as part of its deficit reduction strategy in the mid-1990s, Ottawa was ready to devolve the management of federally funded settlement services to whichever province would come forward. Manitoba and British Columbia took up the offer in 1998 and 1999, respectively. However, when it became reassertive in settlement services to achieve nationally comparable outcomes, Ottawa simply notified these two provinces in early 2012 for the termination of the devolution agreements with them in 2013 and 2014. Federal twists and turns such as this create a lot of instability for the sector in terms of both funding levels and service delivery.

Second, since both federal and provincial programs impose client eligibility requirements, service agencies do not have control over the definition of their clients. For the federal settlement program, eligible clients are by and large immigrants and refugees with permanent resident status. The underlying assumption is that the settlement-integration process is complete with the acquisition of citizenship in three to five years following permanent residency. Compared with their federal counterpart, provincial programs have more flexible rules of eligibility, targeting (although variably) a broader client base, including refugee claimants, recent citizens, migrant workers, and international students. However, given the fact that provincially funded programs are much smaller, many people with settlement and integration needs are still left out of the service picture.

Last but not least, the autonomy of settlement service agencies and workers is constricted by the terms of funding from governments, federal and provincial alike. Since the 1990s, the dominant tendency in the sector has been short-term, project-specific funding, which hampers organizational stability and job security. Currently, agencies are in a vicious circle. In order to access project-specific funding, they need to demonstrate financial strength and stability. Yet, they are hard-pressed to build that strength and stability since long-term, core funding is "no funder's land." The absence of core funding makes the settlement service sector a dependent party to the Canadian partnership model.

Under these circumstances, settlement work is bound up with a precarious existence. It would take a "hard" (long-term and core or organizational) funding regime--as opposed to the current "soft" (short-term and project-specific) funding regime--for settlement work to gain full control over its practice. In this context, the experiences of education, health, and other social service sectors are instructive. These sectors operate under a hard funding regime, which is provincially managed but still has federal involvement in the form of transfer payments to the provinces. It is no coincidence that health professionals, teachers, and social (service) workers are able to regulate themselves under this funding regime and provincial jurisdiction. It remains to be seen whether or not the Canadian settlement sector can make the transition from its current precarious existence defined by a largely federally managed soft funding regime to a more stable form of existence under a provincially managed hard funding regime. Much depends on federal-provincial dynamics. Yet, this transition is key to the prospects of settlement work as a profession in Canada, where the regulation of professions and trades falls under provincial jurisdiction. The provinces would have no interest in giving legislative and substantive backing to an occupation whose financial resources are controlled by the federal government. Such is the case with settlement work.

At the present juncture, conditions are not favorable for a change of the funding regime. Lately, the federal government has been recentralizing the programming and funding of settlement services. Even if a regime change were to occur, however, it might not be sufficient for settlement work to gain a self-regulatory status. The case of Quebec is instructive in this context. The provincial programming and management of all settlement services with federal grants under the Canada-Quebec Accord since 1991 have not led to a self-regulating, or any type of regulated, settlement work practice in that province. What has been missing in Quebec and the rest of Canada is a concerted and sustained jurisdictional claim in the public arena on the part of settlement work. In this sense, there is room for maneuvering. It is quite possible that settlement work can make a strong case for "public interest" in legislated self-regulation, as many human and social service occupations have successfully done in the past in North America (Adams 2009, 2010; Girard and Bauder 2007; Kleiner 2006; PROMPT 2004). After all, working with immigrants and refugees is as equally in the public interest as working with patients, students, or native-born vulnerable populations. And not doing it appropriately poses just as severe risks for the public. Moreover, public benefits and risks are accentuated in the case of settlement work since it often involves working with families as the "unit of analysis" (Burstein 2010).

Short of a change of the funding regime and a successful public claim, settlement work is destined to remain a shared jurisdiction. The autonomous professional project is likely to maintain its status as the primary form of practice but without having an exclusive control over the occupation, let alone the places of work. Social work and, to a lesser extent, the voluntary form of practice will continue to be part of the settlement work landscape. In other words, barring a new occupational lift, this may be the foreseeable future of Canadian settlement work.


This paper is an attempt to approach immigrant settlement work from a sociology of professions perspective. So far, the discipline has curiously failed to pay any attention to this field despite the fact that serving immigrants at the level of civil society has a long history in Canada and other traditional countries of immigration. The paper fills this important gap in the literature. Studying immigrant settlement work in the Canadian context is a particularly useful but also challenging exercise for existing theories of professionalization because Canada has advanced in the field further than any other country of immigration and has done so in a complex federal system. As a profession in the making, Canadian settlement work evolved in a nonlinear fashion, articulating three forms of practice: a waning but persistent streak of voluntarism, a specialization within social work, and an autonomous professional project.

Existing literature on professionalization provides several key analytical tools for tracing the historical trajectory of Canadian settlement work. As employed in the paper, Abbott's (1988) concepts of jurisdictional claim and jurisdictional settlement have proved remarkably revealing of the multiple forms of practice, and of limits of professionalization, in the field. While being more concerted and more comprehensive at the provincial level than at the national level, the autonomous professional project's jurisdictional claim in the public arena is not still strong enough to control settlement work to the exclusion of social work and voluntaristic forms. Without that exclusive control, the project is not in a position to make any claim in the legal system to regulate the field with state sanctioning. The coexistence of three forms of practice is most clear in places of settlement work.

Partly as a result of its shared and incomplete jurisdiction, Canadian settlement work is also beset by low "occupational status honour," a Weberian concept developed by Collins (1990a:35). Admittedly, the settlement work community is unified in making a case for the functional necessity and complexity of the occupation and for the professional equipment and dedication of its practitioners. However, as part of the broader social service sector dominated by women, settlement work faces a status challenge on account of its gendered characteristic. It also has an underprivileged position concerning the composition of its workforce, in which people of immigrant and ethno-religious backgrounds constitute a main part. Moreover, most settlement workers work under precarious and materially unrewarding conditions.

As part of existing literature, historical institutionalism helps us contextualize professional projects. For example, while in the abstract it may be true that a profession does not need self-regulation as long as it has control over the content of its work, in the Anglo-American context self-regulation is a hallmark of "professionhood," especially, in the human and social service sector. Furthermore, in the federal systems of North America, professional self-regulation is a matter of subnational (provincial/state) jurisdiction. Under the loose and "asymmetrical" Canadian federalism, settlement work has developed unevenly across the provinces. Yet, even in the provinces where the occupation advanced furthest, it has not been able to claim, let alone achieve, self-regulatory status.

At the same time, this paper fills an important gap in the literature by zeroing in on the economic resource base of professional projects. What is necessary, if not sufficient, for Canadian settlement work to score a further occupational lift is a transition from the current soft funding regime of the settlement service sector managed largely by the federal government to a provincially managed hard funding regime. With its short-term and project-specific focus and permeability to federal mood swings, the current regime perpetuates a precarious existence for settlement work. As in the case of more established human and social service professions, a long-term and core funding regime managed by the provinces--which have jurisdiction over professions and trades--is a requirement for settlement work to gain full control over its practice and achieve a self-regulatory status. If this requirement is met, settlement work can then make a strong case for self-regulation in the public interest.

An interesting question for future research is what impact the changing government policies will have on the client and economic resource base of settlement work. For several years now, the federal government has been putting more emphasis on temporary labor migration relative to regular immigration and, within the latter category, on economic immigration relative to family reunification and refugee protection. What will this policy shift mean for the client demographics of the settlement service sector? Will settlement services shrink, given the ineligibility of temporary migrants for federally funded services and the presumed language proficiency and job readiness of economic immigrants? In parallel with the shift in immigration policy, there has also been a steady, if small, decline in the overall funding level for the federal settlement program since 2010. Is this a hint of what is more to come? How will the settlement service sector cope with these changes? It seems that the future of settlement work is intricately tied to the forces that are not entirely of its own making.


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Carleton University

This research has been funded in part by a Strategic Research Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I would also like to thank Colleen Lundy, as well as the editor and three anonymous reviewers of this journal, for their helpful comments and suggestions.

Adnan Turegun, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, ON, Canada KIS 5B6. E-mail:

(1) For the sake of brevity, I will use the terms immigrants" and "immigrant" to include refugees" and "refugee" henceforth, unless a distinction needs to be made between the two groups.

(2.) Quebec was an exception to the mainly community-based funding of immigrant settlement services during this period. For example, the province's largest service agency, Service d'Accueil aux Voyageurs et aux Immigrants, had been funded jointly and fully by the federal and provincial governments since its inception in 1955 (Hawkins [1972] 1988:416-17).

(3.) In a further revision in 2011, the framework was renamed as English Language Development and Settlement Service Worker: Complete Competency Dictionary (IIMB 2011).

(4.) Ontario is also the site of a number of certificate and diploma programs in settlement practice and studies offered by postsecondary institutions, as well as a Master's program in immigration and settlement studies at Ryerson University.

(5.) The Quebec government programs and manages all settlement services in the province with funding from the federal government in the form of stable or increasing annual grants regardless of the number of immigrants and refugees the province receives.
Table 1
Provincial, Regional, and National Councils in the Settlement
Service Sector *

                                                         No. of member
Year of                                                    agencies
founding                Name                  Scope         in 2011

1977       Affiliation of                   Provincial        76
             Multicultural Societies,
             reorganized as the
             Affiliation of
             Multicultural Societies
             and Service Agencies of BC
             (AMSSA) in 1983
1978       Standing Conference of           National          185
             Canadian Organizations
             Concerned for Refugees,
             reorganized as the
             Canadian Council for
             Refugees (CCR) in 1986
1978       Ontario Council of Agencies      Provincial        220
             Serving Immigrants (OCASI)
1979       Table de concertation des        Provincial        139
             organismes au service des
             personnes refugiees et
             immigrantes (TCRI)
1980       Alberta Association of           Provincial        19
             Immigrant Serving Agencies
1987       Saskatchewan Association of      Provincial         8
             Immigrant Settlement and
             Integration Agencies
1994       Atlantic Region Association of   Regional          11
             Immigrant Serving Agencies
2005       Canadian Immigrant               National          5**
             Settlement Sector Alliance
2007       Manitoba Immigrant and           Provincial        26
             Refugee Settlement Sector
             Association (MIRSSA)

Source: Turegun (2012).

* In addition to this list, an Association of Western Canada
Immigrant Serving Agencies covering the Prairie provinces and
British Columbia was founded in 1985 (to be renamed as the Western
Canada Association of Immigrant Serving Agencies in the early
1990s). However, it faded away at the turn of the twenty-first

** AMSSA, AAISA, SAISIA, ARAISA, and MIRSSA. From 2005 to 2008, CISSA
membership also included the CCR, OCASI, and the TCRI.
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