A Qualitative Look at Serious Legal Problems Faced by Immigrants in Greater Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia

2. Methodology

Terms Used in the Study

The terms used in this report follow the conventions used by Statistics Canada and Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

This group includes people with a wide variety of immigration backgrounds (Canadian Council for Refugees 2010):

Where helpful in this document, the specific category of immigration will be mentioned. Any time the specific category is not mentioned, the term “immigrant” refers to all the above categories together.

Other immigration categories referred to in this document are:

In this report, the term temporary resident will be used only in connection to foreign workers or international students. Temporary residents often have less access to services. For example, with a few exceptions, federally funded settlement organizations can only assist permanent residents with their settlement journeys and cannot offer as many services to international students or temporary foreign workers as to permanent residents. Visitors were not included in this study.

Context in Which the Study was Undertaken

This study began in the summer of 2020 while the world, was experiencing sudden radical changes to the way we work and live because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first set of interviews took place in July 2020 when the active case numbers of COVID were low (300 cases). By then, people had experienced the closing and careful reopening of schools and businesses, the shift to working from home for many employees, social distancing regulations, and learning to use video conferencing apps. The hospitality industry, traditionally an industry that employs many immigrants, was particularly affected and many jobs were lost (CBC News 2020). Immigrants in British Columbia who arrived in the last ten years, were more at risk of losing their jobs during the pandemic, with an impact that was three times as high as non-immigrants (Ivanova 2020). Throughout the fall, when a second set of interviews took place, restrictions went up again as COVID-19 cases started surging, reaching a peak of about 10,000 active cases by December 2020 (CBC News 2021). All interviews were done through Zoom (virtual conference) or, in a few cases, by phone.


Between July and November 2020, a total of 22 virtual interviews were conducted with immigrants living in Greater Victoria (11 interviews) and Vancouver (11 interviews). To invite participants, a call for participation was distributed through various channels. In Greater Victoria, immigrants were recruited through the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA), ICA’s Community Partnership Network (CPN), and the Greater Victoria Local Immigration Partnership (GVLIP).Footnote 4 Community partners were encouraged to share the recruitment information as well, which many did. In Vancouver, people were recruited through the local settlement service providers MOSAIC, the Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSofBC), the Immigration and Refugee Legal Clinic (IRLC), and the local Vancouver Immigration Partnership.Footnote 5 Most of the recruitment was done through social media, direct emails, and online forums. The recruitment information clearly stated that translation would be provided during the interview, if requested.

Prospective participants were asked to fill in a short survey that asked them for their contact details (phone and/or email) and a few demographic facts to help make sure that selected participants were from a variety of backgrounds (gender, age, current region of residence, immigration category, country of origin and year of arrival, education and employment, and the legal issue that they faced). Providing this demographic information up front was not required to be eligible for participation. There were 38 prospective participants who responded to the invitation and all of them filled in the initial survey. Each of them was contacted, and interviews were arranged with 22 individuals.

The recruitment of participants proved more difficult than expected, which could be due to the sensitive nature of the topic, the fact that the flyer was available in English only, and because the study was undertaken at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and many offices and services were closed for in-person services. Of the 38 prospective participants, 13 individuals never responded to the request to schedule an interview, one had included incomplete contact information, and two responded that, in hindsight, they did not have time to schedule an interview. Of those who never responded, five had shared that they would need a translator to be able to participate. It is possible that the follow-up information that was sent out in English impeded their ability to respond and schedule an interview. Recruitment outreach was repeated numerous times throughout the period (July to November 2020).

Most interviews were conducted via Zoom with one interviewer present who is a newcomer herself. In one case, a professional translator was present as well. All interviews were recorded with participants’ permission for post-interview checking of key details and quotes. Two interviews were conducted by phone, one because the Zoom connection was interrupted halfway through, and one because the interviewee expressed interest in having the interview take place by phone.

Of the 22 interviews, one participant withdrew their participation, and one was excluded from the analysis because they did not share a first-person experience. This report is based on the 20 remaining interviews.

The interviews were semi-structured and followed an interview guide with central and follow-up questions (see Appendix 1). The questions focused on the types of serious legal problems, the strategies used to resolve these problems, the current status of these problems, and the economic, social, and health consequences of having to deal with serious legal problems. In many cases, the participants started talking without much prodding and kept talking without taking a break; many expressed that they just wanted to be able to tell their story and that they needed to be heard. In those cases, the interviewer let them speak and followed their lead. Once the main story had been shared, the interviewer gently turned them to back to the more structured questions to make sure all main points were addressed and details were sufficiently clear; in some cases participants did not remember all the details or dates associated with a case. For this reason, not all interviews followed the same order and not all prompts were answered with the same amount of detail.

At the end of each interview, participants were asked a set of demographic questions. The interviews lasted between one and two hours, and all participants were compensated with $30.

The interview notes and audio-recordings were coded into main themes. Themes were determined for each of the main sections of the interview:

Description of ParticipantsFootnote 6

Figure 1: Demographic Profile of Participants (Selection)

Figure 1: Demographic Profile of Participants (Selection)

Figure 1: Demographic Profile of Participants (Selection) – Text version

This is an infographic. On the top row, there are two curve graphs: the first one is titled “gender” and shows a curve where half is green with the number 10. The legend says “women”. The other half of the curve is orange with the number 10 and the legend says “men.”

The second curve graph is titled “Age”. The first colour segment is green and says 2. The legend indicates that it represents participants 20-29 years old. The next colour segment is orange and says 10, indicating people 30-39. The next colour segment is red and says 4, indicating people 40-49. The next segment is yellow and says 2, indicating people 50-59. The last segment is purple and says 1, indicating a person 60-69.

The next row down shows two more curve graphs. The first one is titled “employment status”. The first segment is green and shows 10. The legend indicates “full-time”. The next segment is orange and says 3, “part-time”. The next segment is red and says 4, “unemployed - looking”. The last segment is yellow and says 3, “unemployed – other”.

The other curve graph is titled “Education.” The largest segment is green and says 14. The legend indicates “Bachelor”. The next segment is orange and says 5, indicating MA or PhD. The last segment is yellow and says 1, indicating “less than high school”.

On the bottom row, there are two pie graphs. The first one is titled “Race”. The largest segment is green and says 8; the legend indicates “South Asian”. The next segment is purple and says 4, indicating East and South-East Asian”. The next segment is orange and says 3, indicating “Latin American”. The next segment is red and says 3, indicating “Black African”. The next segment is lime green and says 2, indicating “Arab”. The last segment is pale orange and says 1, indicating “White”.

The second pie graph is titled “Immigration Category”. The largest segment is green and says 9. The legend indicates “economic immigrants”. The next segment is orange and says 7, indicating “Family Sponsorship”. The next segment is red and says 2, indicating “refugee”. The last segment is yellow and say 2, indicating “temporary resident”.