About COA

What is COA?

The Canadian Orientation Abroad (COA) program is a pre-arrival orientation initiative offered to refugees, economic immigrants and family class immigrants, including spouses and dependents. COA currently operates 20 permanent training sites overseas, operating in over 40 countries and 60 locations every year. COA also works with an extensive number of partners providing services to newcomers in Canada.

Orientation to refugees consists of a three-day program (or a five-day program for camp-based refugees), while orientation to immigrants consists of a one-day program with individualized support and referrals. Training materials encompass essential topics such as employment, education, housing, health, life in Canada, access to citizenship and settlement services. Training to non-refugee participants is delivered in English or French while refugees are provided with orientation in their mother tongue. Support services, including child-minding and travel reimbursement, are also provided for refugee participants in need.

Since its inception in 1998, COA has provided support to over 200,000 refugees and immigrants preparing for their new life in Canada. 

Program Objectives

The objectives of the COA program are to:

  • Provide eligible clients with accurate information about life in Canada;
  • Help them develop realistic expectations regarding their settlement in Canada;
  • Increase and develop migrants’ awareness and skills necessary to successfully adapt to their new life;
  • Increase their capacity to integrate the Canadian labour market;
  • Address any questions and concerns they might have regarding their move to Canada.

The provision of pre-arrival orientation is a simple, effective way to maximize migrants’ preparedness and equip them with accurate and up to date information to live and work in Canada. Our sessions help incoming migrants adjust their immigration strategy, build realistic expectations, cope with initial challenges and identify services and resources to contact upon arrival in Canada.

Program Eligibility

Eligibility to the COA sessions is determined by the terms and conditions of IRCC’s Settlement Program.

  • Refugees: Government-assisted refugees (GARs), Privately-sponsored refugees (PSRs), Blended Visa office-referred cases (BVORs) and refugees selected for the Joint-Assistance Sponsorship (JAS) Program. Including principal applicants, spouses and dependents.
  • Economic Immigrants: Federal Skilled Workers (FSWs) and Provincial Nominees (PNs). Including principal applicants, spouses and dependents.
  • Family Class Immigrants: Members of the Family Class (FCs) category, including Spouses and Dependents (S&D), and Parents and Grandparents (P&G).
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Our History

Similar to other resettlement countries, Canada has been providing pre-arrival settlement support since the 1970s.

COA was created in 1998, following the gradual closing by the Government of Canada of the Language Instruction to Newcomers in Canada (LINC) Overseas Program, which had been implemented by IOM from 1990 to 1998.  LINC Overseas consisted of approximately 60-120 hours of settlement information and language training with an emphasis on functional teaching approaches and communicative competence. Over its eight five years of implementation, LINC overseas was offered to over 20,000 Canada-bound refugees and family reunification cases in Austria, Croatia, the (former) Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

In 1998, the Canadian Orientation Abroad (COA) came into place, with the following existing training sites in Bosnia, Croatia, Kenya, Serbia and Vietnam. In the midst of the conflict in Kosovo, and Canada’s decision to offer temporary shelter to thousands of Kosovars in Canada, COA started its very first large-scale mobile mission to Macedonia and Albania.  In this emergency context, COA was provided aboard buses in Macedonia, and in hospitals’ waiting areas in Albania.  In that short period, approximately 8,000 Kosovars attended a pre-arrival orientation. The project quickly expanded beyond these permanent training sites, through mobile sessions offered in various remote locations. In early 2001, COA established its first immigrant training operation in Pakistan.  Following this successful project, additional immigrant training sites were established in Iran, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.  Nowadays, the COA program operates 20 permanent training sites. In any given year, COA delivers orientation sessions in an average of 40 countries and 60 locations worldwide.

Since 2015, COA is the largest pre-arrival orientation program implemented by IOM, closely followed by the United States Cultural Orientation (USCO) program. COA is also the largest overseas orientation initiative funded by IRCC, and the longest standing.