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Immigrant Questions and Answers

Immigrants have many questions about living, studying and working in BC. Search here to find answers to hundreds of questions you might have. All answers include information and links to other important sources of information and detail.

NewToBC has collected a list of questions and answers that are often asked by new immigrants and refugees. Look through the list for information about immigration, employment, education health, housing, banking, the BC legal system and transportation.

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Education and Childcare

Early Years
Q. What is a pre-school?

A. A pre-school is a part-day program (maximum of four hours) that helps young children prepare for school. Children learn important skills and parents get information about how to help their children. Pre-schools are for children 30 months and older who have not yet entered grade 1. Some pre-schools serve mixed-age groups and others have separate sessions for children who are 3-4 years old. Many pre-schools are free and usually operate from September to June.

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Q. Where can I find information about pre-schools in BC?
Q. How do I enrol my child in pre-school?

A. If you would like to enrol your child in a StrongStartBC or ReadySetLearn program, you should contact your local school district. If you would like to enrol your child in an English as a Second Language (ESL) program, you should contact your local settlement agency.

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Q. What is K-12?

A. K-12 is short for Kindergarten to Grade 12.


Q. How does the school system work in BC?

A. In British Columbia, all children between the ages of 6-16 years must go to school or they can study at home. They can attend a public school, independent (private) school or study at home. Public schools are free in British Columbia, and every child living here is eligible to attend. Independent schools often charge a fee and offer specific religious, language, educational or philosophical approaches. Home Schooling allows students to work with their parents at their own speed to mix life and schoolwork into the family schedule. There is also an option for Distributed Learning. This means that students are allowed to learn at a distance from their teacher, whether they are at home, school or another learning facility. To graduate and receive a graduation certificate, all students must meet the provincial graduation requirements.

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Q. How do I enrol my child in school?

A. To enrol your child in public school, contact your local school district. You child will attend the school located in the school catchment area where you live in. To enrol your child in an independent school, contact the school that you would like your child to attend. To enrol your child in homeschooling or Distributed Learning, visit the Ministry of Education website. When you enrol your child in school, you will need to show official documents with your child’s date of birth, your resident status in British Columbia, and the address where you live. You will also need to show your child’s immunization record, which is a paper that lists the vaccinations against diseases that your child has received. B.C.’s public K-12 schools accept mid-year admission. However, most private schools only admit students at the beginning of a school year.

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Q. What is the Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS) program?

A. The Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS) Program is a school-based settlement service that helps the children of newcomers and their families to settle in their schools and communities. Most school districts with a considerable immigrant population have a SWIS program. Some SWIS programs are offered through local settlement agencies. You should contact your local school or settlement agency for more information.

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Q. What English as a Second Language (ESL) supports are available in schools?

A. Most students who need help learning English will get support in their classroom. Some older students attend both regular classroom programs and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. You should contact your local school for more information.

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Q. What French programs are available in schools?

A. There are three kinds of French programs available for francophone and non-francophone students in British Columbia. Francophone education programs are designed for students whose first language is French. Instruction for all courses is in French. French immersion programs are designed for non-francophone students to become bilingual. Basic curriculum instruction is provided entirely in French during the first years, with English-language instruction added gradually. Late immersion programs are also available. Core French courses are taught in many schools and help students learn to communicate in French and experience francophone cultures.

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Q. Can my child continue to learn his/her native language?

A. A few school districts in the Metro Vancouver region offer bilingual programs (English and a non-official language) for elementary and middle school students regardless of their first language. Many secondary schools have a choice of language classes in their curriculum. In order to prepare for undergraduate admission to post-secondary institutions, secondary school students are encouraged to take a language class (other than English). Your child should learn the admission requirements of post-secondary institutions and plan their courses selection starting from grade 9 or grade 10. In some communities, elementary and secondary students may also be able to take classes after school or on Saturdays in different languages. You may have to pay fees for these classes. You should contact your local school or the British Columbia Heritage Language Association for more information.

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Q. How do I get information about my children’s school and how my children are doing in school?

A. When your child is new to BC’s school, it is important for you to communicate with your child’s school teachers, counsellors and administrators. There are many ways to learn about your child’s school and support your child’s studies, e.g. attending an orientation at the beginning of the school year, subscribing for the school newsletter, attending parent-teacher interviews, reviewing school report cards, participating in school initiatives and volunteering at your child’s school (e.g. school events, at the library and on Parent Advisory Councils). When you have a concern about your child’s education or behaviour at school, you may call or email teachers, counsellors or principals. You may also consult the Settlement Workers at School (SWIS) to learn ways and tips about communication with your child’s school.

Q. What is International Baccalaureate (IB) Program?

A. The International Baccalaureate (IB) Program is an internationally renowned program which offers a coordinated curriculum from grade 9 through grade 12 for talented and highly-motivated students. IB is recognized throughout North America as equivalent to first year university courses. Students who achieve well in IB subjects will generally receive university credit for their efforts. Most school districts in BC offer district wide IB programs to their students. It is students’ responsibility to apply for this program. To apply for the IB program, your child needs to submit an application package and write an exam. The application usually opens in December and admission often ends in February of their grade 8 school year. Most school districts offer orientation sessions to grade 8 students and their parents between October and January. If your child is interested in the IB program, your child and you may consider contacting your child’s school for more information.

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Q. What is Advanced Placement (AP)?

A. Advanced Placement is a program that allows students to take courses during high school that can earn them college credit and/or qualify students for more advanced classes when they begin college. Usually secondary students write their selected AP exams during their grade 11 or 12 school year. AP exams are usually scheduled in early May each year and registration for the exams often opens in early March. Although it is not required, students intending to take AP courses often enrol into school based Honour Programs starting from grade 9. To apply for the Honour Program, grade 8 students will have to fill out an application form and write an exam which often takes place in January. Each secondary school has their own selection of AP/Honour courses. You may consult the secondary school in your catchment area for more information.

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Post-Secondary Education
Q. What is post-secondary education?

A. Post-secondary education refers to education beyond high school. It can be completed at different types of post-secondary schools, such as universities, colleges and institutes. Some schools are “recognized”, which means that they can grant degrees, diplomas, certificates or other qualifications. In British Columbia, there are hundreds of public and private post-secondary schools. At public universities, colleges and institutes, the government pays for most of the cost of programs, but students also have to pay some fees. Each post-secondary school and program has different fees. There are usually two main terms of study per year: September to December and January to April. Most schools also offer summer courses. Students can attend class full-time or part-time or study from home by enrolling in an online program.

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Q. What should I know about public universities in BC?

A. There are 11 public universities in British Columbia that offer different types of undergraduate and graduate degree programs in many disciplines and subjects. Some also offer courses and programs in trades, vocational and career technical studies that can lead to a certificate or diploma or help you prepare for other post-secondary studies.

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Q. What should I know about public colleges in BC?

A. There are 11 public colleges in British Columbia that that offer programs in trades/apprenticeship, vocational, career, technical, and academic studies (often called university transfer). Colleges also offer developmental programs that help you prepare for post-secondary studies. They offer credentials from certificates, diplomas, associate degrees, and applied undergraduate degrees (called Bachelor degrees).

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Q. What should I know about public institutes in BC?

A. There are three public institutes in British Columbia that focus on career, vocational and technical specialties and cover a variety of occupations. They offer credentials from certificates to degrees. One institute has an Aboriginal focus.

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Q. What should I know about private career training institutions in BC?

A. There are approximately 320 private career training institutions in British Columbia, with programs ranging from sound and audio technicians to licensed practical nurses to commercial pilots. In British Columbia, any private career training institution offering a program with tuition of $1,000 or more and is 40 hours or longer in duration must register and adhere to basic education standards set by the Private Career Training Institutions Agency (PCTIA).

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Q. How should I prepare to apply for a post-secondary institution during my secondary school years?

A. Secondary students usually start their application for post-secondary institutions at the beginning of their grade 12 school year. However, it is very important to consider and plan for their post-secondary education way ahead of grade 12, starting at grade 9. Guided by their post-secondary education goals, students will plan and select their core courses and elective courses, get involved in school and community initiatives, and be engaged in extracurricular activities throughout grade 9 to grade 12. School counsellors at secondary schools are available for students and their parents who need guidance regarding post-secondary education. Most post-secondary institutions offer a wide range of initiatives for grade 9-12 students and their parents to learn about the application and admission processes, including: orientation sessions, workshops, campus tours and open houses. Advisory offices at post-secondary institutions are also approachable throughout the school year.

Adult Education
Q. What is Adult Basic Education (ABE)?

A. Adult Basic Education (ABE) refers to education programs for adults who are not ready to enter directly into an academic or career program at the post-secondary level. Adult upgrading programs serve people who have basic literacy needs, did not complete high school or are upgrading so they can go on to post-secondary education and/or training. Adult Special Education programs serve people with permanent disabilities. English as a Second Language (ESL) programs serve newcomers to British Columbia whose first language is not English.

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Q. What is continuing education?

A. Continuing education refers to education programs for adults after they have left the formal education system. These programs consist typically of short or part-time courses offered by post-secondary institutions and school districts in British Columbia.

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ESL Programs
Q. What types of English classes are available for immigrants?

A. Permanent Residents (PRs) may be eligible to take free English classes in British Columbia. Special pre-school programs can help young children learn English. Elementary and secondary students will learn English at school. Adult immigrants can attend full-time or part-time English classes at a college or public school. These schools may offer free English as a Second Language (ESL) classes or charge fees for classes. The Government of British Columbia may help pay the fees for students with low incomes. Settlement agencies, community groups and churches may provide free or low-cost English classes in some areas. Many private English schools and private tutors also teach English, but they may be more expensive than classes in public schools and colleges.

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Q. What is the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program?

A. The Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program is a free language training program for eligible adult learners that provides basic language skills. In British Columbia, it is generally offered in English, but there are a few institutions that offer the program in French.

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Q. How do I enrol in Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) classes?

A. You can take LINC classes if you are a permanent resident or a refugee but not Canadian citizen yet, and 17 years or older. You will need to complete an application form and submit it with a photocopy of your immigration document. You will also need to complete a language assessment test. If you live in Metro Vancouver or Fraser Valley area, you can submit your application to an assessment and referral centre in your community. The next question has information on the assessment and referral centres in your areas. If you live anywhere else in British Columbia, you should contact the school that offers Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) classes in your area.

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Q. What is a language assessment centre and where can I find one?

A. Language assessment centres provide immigrants with English or French language assessment (testing) for government-funded programs. The assessments are based on the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLBs), which is the nationally recognized standard for measuring speaking, listening, reading and writing. Language assessment centres can also give information about locations and class schedules of language training programs, enrol you in a government-funded language training program, and provide you with a referral to a government-funded language training program. 

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Financial Support
Q. What is a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP)?

A. A Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) is a special education savings account registered with the Government of Canada to help you save for your children’s post-secondary education or training programs. You can open an RESP at many banks and credit unions. The money deposited grows tax-free until it is withdrawn. RESPs can be left open for up to 36 years and used by beneficiaries to pay for full-time or part-time studies in a qualifying college, university, trade school or apprenticeship program.

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Q. What is a British Columbia Training and Education Savings Grant (BCTESG)?

A. The British Columbia Training and Education Savings Grant (BCTESG) is a new program by the Government of British Columbia. If your child is a beneficiary of a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) with a participating financial institution, the Government of British Columbia will contribute $1,200 to eligible children through the BCTESG that can be used for post-secondary education or training programs.

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Q. What types of financial help can I get for my post-secondary education?

A. The Government of British Columbia lends money to many students who need financial help. Some students with low incomes may get help to pay their fees and some of their living expenses. To get this help, students must have lived in British Columbia for 12 months before their program starts. Most post-secondary institutions offer a wide range of scholarships and financial assistance programs to help students meet their financial needs. Contact counsellors at your high school or post-secondary institution for more information and support.

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