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Saint John Newcomers Centre simplifying tax season for immigrants

Click to play video: 'Newcomer centre in Saint John teaches its clients how to file income tax' Newcomer centre in Saint John teaches its clients how to file income tax
WATCH: The centre is working with the Canada Revenue Agency to make the process easier, especially for people filing their income tax for the first time. Travis Fortnum reports – Mar 4, 2020

The Saint John Newcomers Centre is hoping to make tax season a little less stressful for people who are new to Canada.

“Some of them,” explains Lina Gharbiya, Newcomer Settlement Advisor at the centre, “they do understand that they need to file their tax return.”

“But some of them don’t even know what it is, they just know they have to do something.”

READ MORE: Canada’s tax season kicks off — with a simplified paper return

This is the fourth year the Newcomers Centre has offered a tax clinic.

Newcomers can either book an appointment, or leave the required documents with staff. One of 12 CRA-trained volunteers will then meet with them or file their taxes for them using the documents.

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“It’s more than just doing taxes,” says Gharbiya, “we educate them as well. The volunteer team we have is absolutely amazing.”

And some of those volunteers were once on the other side of the table.

Like Najmeh Abtahi, who moved to Saint John in February 2019. Originally from Iran, she knows how clients feel.

Najmeh Abtahi puts her finance experience to work, volunteering for the tax clinic. Travis Fortnum / Global News

“They have no clue about it,” Abtahi says.

“I believe in their countries it’s totally different – it was different for me.”

Abtahi says she’s happy to lend a hand to the clinic – not just because she enjoys giving back, but she actually enjoys the work as well.

“The very first time I was told, I had no idea. I didn’t know what is it,” she says.

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“But once I started my accounting major and then I took the taxation course, then I became familiar – and actually I became interested in this field.”

READ MORE: New Brunswick aims to increase number of newcomers within five years

Gharbiya says last year the clinic doubled the number of clients they served – and this year seems to have seen even more.

“Newcomers, they feel that this is a safe environment,” Gharbiya says.

“We are the first people they see when they come here, we are the people who connect them to the community.”

Canada Revenue Agency spokesperson Desmond Arsenault says the familiarity between volunteers and clients is a benefit.

“When you come to a clinic like this you know your return will be prepared correctly,” he says.

Arsenault says the CRA provides clinics like the one at the Newcomers Centre with software, in addition to the training and resources volunteers like Abtahi get access to.

“I believe it’s kind of beneficial for both the community and me as a volunteer,” Abtahi says, “because on one hand I apply my knowledge and technical skills and on the other, I gain some experience.”

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“These are all learning opportunities for me too.”

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