As the immigrant population increases do the number of volunteers decrease?

Calgary is recognized as having a large population of volunteers as well as a large immigrant population.

A Statistics Canada report in 2006 said 71 per cent of Calgary’s population had volunteered in the past year. But as the immigrant population increases, the amount of people volunteering in the city may be decreasing,

That’s because immigrants are less likely to volunteer than Canadian-born inhabitants, as reported by Statistics Canada in May 2012.

By 2020 Calgary’s total immigrant population is estimated to reach almost half a million, compared to 300,000 in 2010, said a fact sheet published by the City of Calgary in 2011.

There are many reasons why immigrants would shy away from volunteering, experts said.

For starters, volunteering for the public is a very North American idea, said Photo illustration by Jocelyn DollAnoush Newman, executive director at the Calgary Multicultural Centre.

Many immigrants come from countries where everyone looks after their own family.

“We are getting people coming to Canada who don’t understand, or who don’t have the experience of volunteering for the community,” said Newman.

In addition, newcomers might not have the time to volunteer.

“It is a busy time they are settling and finding accommodation and work, getting children into school,” said Karen Franco, director of communications at Volunteer Calgary.

“In many cases new immigrants are not as aware as other groups of the actual opportunities to volunteer,” added Peter Elson, acting director institute of Nonprofit Studies at Mount Royal University.

Confidence in language skills may prevent people from volunteering, Elson stated, adding that some voluntary positions require a criminal record check.

“If people come from a regime or come from countries where doing a police check could have very dire and severe consequences that would certainly be enough in terms of turning people off to volunteering.”

However, the Statistics Canada report also said that immigrants tend to donate more than Canadian born inhabitants and are more likely to be regularly affiliated with a religious organization.

Franco said when immigrants get involved in the community, they are more likely to engage with such organizations, as well as cultural groups, because that is their first point of contact.

“Those early days of volunteering for a new comer often are in the community that they are most familiar with,” she added.

Elson also pointed out that it is very difficult to get stats about such informal volunteering.

Informal volunteering is when immigrants help out members of their community or family, but do not register as a volunteer at an organization.

Elson recommended patience when trying to recruit immigrant volunteers.

“It takes time and sometimes generations before people feel comfortable in terms of volunteering,” he said.

jdoll@cjournal.ca