Settlement and Career Services for Immigrants

Making the best of a client-service provider relationship

I have been to both sides: when I arrived to Canada in 2004, I was the client, after some entrepreneurship and independent consulting; I finally became a service provider myself.

This double-perspective has allowed me to see why sometimes this client-service provider relationship doesn’t work as it should. I hope this article helps both newcomers and service providers to make the best of it.

Immigrants to Canada have access to a wide array of free services: ESL classes, settlement, resource and referral programs, career planning, job-search coaching and support, credential assessment and recognition guidance and support, etc.  While services vary from province to province and may be offered by different agencies, most share similar features. Understanding these features will help you to navigate the sometimes intricate and confusing system.

Guidelines and eligibility:

Agencies provide different programs, from free ESL classes to settlement and job search support. Programs are based on clear guidelines and mandates that are part of their contract with the institution that provides the funds. These guidelines determine the length and depth as well as the nature of the services provided. The eligibility criteria determine who receives the services (permanent residents only, refugees, unemployed, youth, women, certain occupations, etc.)

Rights and responsibilities:

As in any relationship, each party has rights and responsibilities. Free service doesn’t mean laissez faire: for the service to work, you have to give it a real try: be punctual, committed to do your part and to make it work. Many services can be accessed only once, make sure you join then when you are ready to put your 100% into it. After all, all these services were designed so you can become independent and successful in your new country. Joining the wrong service or when you are not ready may delay or hinder this integration.


The first step for any relationship to work is transparency: understanding what is expected from you and what you can expect from your counsellor, program or agency is vital. Attend to information sessions, read their brochures and ask questions to understand their expectations, services boundaries and policies. Don’t make assumptions.

Mutual respect and acceptance:

It is important that you as a client feel comfortable with your service provider; the same is true for your service provider. Counsellors and instructors can’t work properly with clients if they feel disrespected or ignored. When the relationship doesn’t work, talk to your counsellor. Most problems can be solved at this level. Counsellors are usually very caring and highly professional people with real concern about their clients’ well being.


Most programs for newcomers (immigrants and refugees) are free. But the resources they use are ultimately paid by other citizens like you, through their taxes and/or donations. Counsellors, facilitators and other staff put a lot of effort each day to ensure services are of quality. They are also committed to preserve resources as funds are usually tight. Being respectful and sustainable when using facilities and services allows others to benefit from them.

As a client, there are many things you can do:

  • Have a binder or portfolio to save all the materials your counsellor provides to you
  • Take notes; ask for deadlines and clear expectations
  • Clarify your own expectations about the service, and mention any concern or special accommodation you may require
  • Keep in touch with your counsellor, case manager or instructor for the entire length of the service. Don’t wait for your counsellor to call or email you. Take the initiative and share.
  • Avoid making assumptions. Ask if you have doubts about a service or the way something is done. Counsellors tend to be very open and receptive to feedback and questions
  • Ask for help when you need it. If a personal or family problem is preventing you from participating in program, tell your counsellor. Counsellors are equipped with updated knowledge of community resources and are usually able to provide the appropriate referral in case you need extra support. Don’t be shy!
  • Treat free services as if you were paying for them: be punctual, pay attention and complete the program. You can’t complain if you don’t try!
  • Do your homework: counsellors will give you steps and things to do (called “action plans”). If uncomfortable, ask for clarification.
  • Be proactive when designing your career, settlement or back-to-work action plan. The best results come from people who keep control of their own lives.

If you take responsibility for yourself you will develop a hunger to accomplish your dreams

~ Les Brown

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