Building Migrant Resilience in Cities

Building Migrant Resilience in Cities | Immigration et resilience en milieu urbaine
Strengthening Resilience and Supporting Migrant Capabilities throughout Pathways to Integration and Settlement

Established in 2016, “Building Migrant Resilience in Cities” is a five-year research partnership and a multi-sector collaboration among academics, community representatives, and policymakers. It draws on over 20 years of experience in bringing together a range of key actors working on issues immigration and settlement through CERIS, a leading Ontario network of migration and settlement researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. Our initiative is unique in how it explores the concept of social resilience in the context of increasing immigration in urban areas across the provinces of Quebec and Ontario. The project represents five universities in Quebec and Ontario.

The Kitchener-Waterloo City Network led by Dr. Jenna Hennebry examines the challenges, capabilities and strategies that build social resilience in temporary migrant workers, international students and individuals without status; this project will consider the impacts of gender, levels of precarity and category of entry. We will examine which strategies, resources, networks, motivations and obstacles contribute to, or impede social resilience. The KW City Network also examines institutional resilience of Immigration Service Providers (ISPs) in their support of these and other newcomers to the region.

The project mobilises its activities and research findings to contribute to real change by bringing together renowned researchers and academics, committed community organisations and immigrant and settlement advocates, and key policy makers and influencers in government at all levels to engage in dialogue and encourage action. The project is made possible with support from the Government of Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Principal Investigator                                                       Highlighted Projects

Dr. Jenna Hennebry

Co-investigators and Collaborators

Dr. Margaret Walton-Roberts

Dr. Mikal Skuterud

Dr. Ana Ferrer

Community Partners

Tara Bedard (Immigration Partnership Region of Waterloo) (Community Co-Chair)

Lucia Harrison & Ana Luz Martinez (KW Multicultural Centre)

Shelly Campagnola (Mennonite Coalition Refugee Support)

Representation, Discourse and Social Politics

Dominant representations emerge over time through discursive practices at individual and societal levels, policies and everyday social communication. Representations in the media and in official government policies and statements have a role in creating opportunities or challenges to migrants themselves and can significantly influence the protection of their human rights. They play an important role in constructing meaning, in shaping social realities and influencing public opinion by “framing images of reality in a predictable and patterned way” (McQuail, 1994). The securitization of migration policy has led to perceptions of migration that emphasizes an “us vs. them” mentality and to greater vulnerability and precarious conditions for migrants, especially women. Social stereotypes that prevail in mass and social media affect not only our perceptions of migrants, but also the way in which migrants behave and perceive themselves. As new forms of media and communication continue to emerge, new research is needed to form an understanding of the representation, discourse, and social politics created. The center focuses its research on representations of war and social trauma, production of social identities with a focus on racialization of gender and intercultural exchange, education and social justice, and tracking flows of discourse influencing both individual and group identities. 



Highlighted Projects

Mobility and Transnationalism

In the 21st century, a shift is increasingly taking place towards understanding individuals by looking beyond what goes on within national boundaries. With increased mobility, the assumption that people will live their lives in one place no longer holds. More and more people will belong to two or more societies at the same time. Adopting a transnational approach to understanding migration provides new insights to understanding basic social institutions.  It examines migrants as individuals embedded in multi-layered, multi-sided transnational social field, involved in meaningful participation in both sending and receiving countries. The character and extent of practices of transnationalism and their impacts are largely unknown within certain aspects of migration. National, international, and bilateral frameworks, such as bilateral labour mobility agreements, can play an integral role in protecting migrant rights in this process. Research by the center has focused on the connection between  gender, migration, seasonal workers and transnationalism, the role of remittances in transnational community formation and maintenance, and the role of the state and community in the nature of transnational relations.


Highlighted Projects

Temporary Migrant and Undocumented Workers

According to the ILO, there are 150 million migrant workers worldwide, where 83.7 million are men and 66.6 million are women (ILO, 2015). Labour migration is a phenomenon that is present across the world. The proliferation of temporary worker programs has led to the creation of precarious jobs and ephemeral legal status for temporary migrant workers. Very often, migrant domestic workers face mobility restrictions and abuse due to the uneven power relations between employer and workers in migrant domestic labour schemes. Workers encounter further obstacles including separation from families, lack of social protection, stigma, xenophobia, and racism. These issues are further compounded for undocumented workers as they lack legal status and are denied their rights in destination countries. Agricultural migrant workers in countries, such as Canada, are vulnerable to exploitation as work visa permits are linked to a single employer and migration streams like the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program have no pathway to permanent residence. Often overlooked, the vulnerabilities of temporary and undocumented migrant workers must be further addressed in research projects, policy briefs and policy points dealing with the topic of Labour Migration.



Culture, Identity, and Religion

Migration has implications for all aspects of culture, identity, and religion. All movement, whether within or across borders, has the potential to challenge and reshape responsibilities, gender norms, religious practices and beliefs, social categories and relationships, political and family ties back home, and cultural markers and practices. Within this context, migration may create spaces for autonomy and empowerment but also vulnerability and crisis. Individuals who migrate may experience multiple stresses that impact their mental well-being including the loss of social support systems, adjustment to new cultures, changing gender norms and a reshaping of their concept of self. Language and religious differences can further create a sense of isolation. Individuals who remain in their countries of origin may also find their roles, culture and identities shifting to adapt to the absence of the migrant. These junctures and disjunctures can have profound impacts on the identities of all persons and countries participating in migration.  Exploring the connections between migration, culture, identity, and religion will help deepen understandings of migrant choices to undertake their journeys, their selection of destinations, their settlement and integration experiences, the impact on those who stay behind as well as the experience of returning to countries of origin.

Highlighted Projects


Refugees, Asylum, and Displacement

Currently, the world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced. Refugees constitute 21.3 million of that number, with over half of them being children under the age of 18. Further, 54% of refugees worldwide come from three countries that are Somalia (1.3 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million), Syria (4.9 million) (UNHCR 2016). Throughout their journeys, refugees encounter numerous challenges and obstacles. During transit, refugees are often vulnerable to perilous travel routes, hunger, abduction, violence, and trafficking.  Within refugee camps, they face challenges of mobility, access to education, health services, and social networks. For refugees who reach countries of permanent resettlement, such as Canada, numerous obstacles arise during the settlement and integration process. Recipient countries’ policies, attitudes, and preparedness of service providers to meet the needs of refugees, all impact the settlement processes and outcomes. Public perceptions and willingness to accept cultural and racial differences, as well as popular understandings of the citizens and non-citizens, are also key factors in determining a refugee’s transition and settlement in a new country. The current increase in global refugee flows represents a significant challenge that must be understood through increased research into the refugee experience throughout its various stages.



Governance and Public Policy

The 21st century has seen international migration become one of the most salient issues on public policy and global governance agendas. Most recent estimates suggest there are more than 244 million international migrants (UNFPA 2015). Unlike the movement of capital, goods, and services, international migration is not governed by a single agency within the international system that oversees and addresses all forms of international migration. Rather, there is a complex network of intergovernmental organizations within and outside of the UN that focus on specific aspects of migration. Most countries play a role in international migration and act either as source, transit, or destination countries. The ways governments respond can have consequences for these countries and for migrants crossing borders. Migrants relocate for education, work, family, safety, and to learn about new cultures and societies. Many migrants support their families and communities through remittances and contribute to the development of both source and destination countries.  Migration and movements take place through regular and irregular channels, such as smuggling or trafficking of persons. Different approaches to governance, varying from UN systems, to regional frameworks and bilateral agreements, extend across internal and external borders.  As migration trends continue to change there is an increased need for international cooperation, policies and governance mechanisms to manage the movement of people, ensuring human rights are respected and contributions and impacts are recognized and considered.



Migration and Development Nexus

Analysts and policy makers have imperfectly understood the links between migration and its impacts on, and potential for, development. Research is now increasingly exploring this relationship, recognizing migrant contributions in countries of origin, transit and destination. There is a growing understanding of transnational practices linking migrants to both receiving and sending societies. This has led to a broader understanding of the potential for migration to positively impact social and economic development both at home and abroad. Migrants often support their families and communities in countries of origin through remittances. Money, goods, and social capital sent home often contribute to the economic and social development of communities and countries. Migrants also play an integral part of the development of host countries by supplementing gaps in labour markets, transfers of skills and contributions to cultural enrichment. Increasingly, governments in the Global South are turning to their own extra-national diasporic populations in order to boost economic development, build global trade and investment networks, while increasing their political leverage overseas; but this is not without consequences.  Our research assesses the various angles and influences of migration on development. We focus on enhancing an international understanding of the potential of migrants at all stages of their journeys, including the implications of remittances, diasporas and development, social and economic costs and benefits and the power dynamics and interests at play.



Environment and Migration

In 2015, the earth reached the highest temperature ever recorded (NCDC, 2015).  The excessive rate of climate change, which far exceeds most scientific forecasts, has had important and often dire consequences for individuals and communities who struggle to respond to natural disasters, depleted natural resources, and food security challenges. Increasingly, individuals have opted to relocate as a survival strategy for adapting to changing environments. It is estimated that since 2009, one person every second has been displaced by a natural disaster. This has led to an average of 22.5 million people becoming displaced by climate or weather related events since 2008 (IDMC 2015). The droughts in Somalia in 2011, floods in Pakistan between 2010 and 2012, and the earthquake in Nepal in 2015, are only some examples of the natural disasters and slow onsets of climate related crisis that devastate a large number of people; leaving them without shelter, clean water, and basic supplies. The international community is increasingly wary of the potential for climate to cause large scale population displacements and migration in coming decades. As the issue of climate change continues to develop, innovate and in-depth research is required to maintain an international focus on the scientific, political, and policy dimensions of environmentally-related migration and its future challenges.


Highlighted Projects



Skill Training and Migration

Global competition for skilled migration has seen a range of policy options employed to capture full and partial human capital endowments. Immigration policy in many OECD nations now places a premium on migrants with specific skills that are seen as vital to national development, innovation and competitiveness. Nations are in competition for this talent, often reverting to what has been called a ‘citizenship for talent exchange’. One policy arena emerging in response to this need is in the intersection of migration and education. In Canada, international students have become an increasingly important dimension of the country’s educational and immigration policies.  This has led to the development of pathways from educational to working visa status. The area of skilled and high skilled migration examines issues such as the pathways and transitions from study to work visas, international student experiences, brain drain/circulation, knowledge flows, movement of healthcare workers, and more.


Highly Skilled Migration