The B.C. government is expected to waive the three-month waiting period for health care and the international student fees for Ukrainian refugees who arrive in the province.
The move comes as the first refugees from Ukraine begin arriving in Canada including in parts of British Columbia.
In an interview, Municipal Affairs Minister Nathan Cullen said the province was working on better understanding what supports will be provided by federal government.
B.C. will ensure options are available for housing and barriers are eliminated for accessing the health care and education system, he said.
Currently, those moving from B.C. from other jurisdictions must wait three months to receive health care services. International students are also required to pay a student fee to attend the K-to-12 system.
“We are also working quite quickly to connect British Columbians who are looking to support Ukrainians, either financially or offering up space, and we’re working very closely with the Ukrainian Congress here in B.C. and other service providers to make sure those answers are there for British Columbians,” Cullen said.
Earlier this week, federal immigration minister Sean Fraser announced an expansion of the federal settlement program to offer key services such as language training, orientation, employment assistance and other supports for Ukrainians as they settle into their new communities.
More than 60,000 Ukrainians have applied to move to Canada but the expectation is many of those people have applied to multiple places to seek refuge.
“There is a sense overseas that Ukrainians are using this as an insurance policy and they may not actually land in Canada,” Chris Friesen, chair of the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance, said.
“We are aware of Ukrainians are already arriving in very small numbers.”
British Columbia is currently planning to help support mainly women, children and seniors.
Friesen said the current assumption is about 10,000 people could arrive in British Columbia.
But Cullen said one of the challenges is that the province does not know where these refugees may go in B.C.
British Columbia is still looking for details from Ottawa on support for paying for housing and helping either secure employment or provide long-term financial assistance.
“Typically, (in) a refugee program Ottawa provides a whole suite of healthcare, housing, training,” Cullen said.
“But because (Ukrainians) have a different designation, it begs questions that Ukrainian-Canadians and refugee settlement groups, and us as a province have for Ottawa: will these people fleeing violence in Ukraine have the full suite of supports: housing, healthcare, language training, all of those things.”
The other massive challenge will be finding a place for refugees to live once they arrive here.
The province is already working with the private sector and the hotel industry to do an early assessment of available properties.
The planning will increase when there is a better sense of what communities refugees may be heading to.
“Housing is of course the number one challenge. Where do you find affordable housing in this province,” Friesen said.
“There are systems underway that will help manage offers. I believe there will be call for action for the private sector, private citizens to consider hosting a Ukrainian once they arrive.”