The Liberal government is launching a new pilot program aimed at attracting and retaining skilled immigrants in Canada’s rural and northern communities that are grappling with labour gaps due to a youth exodus and aging populations.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen made the announcement today in Sudbury, Ont., as a way to support economic development in small and remote communities that face labour market shortages.
The majority of newcomers settle in big cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver under existing federal economic immigration programs.
The pilot is styled after a similar program in Atlantic Canada that launched in 2017, and was deemed successful in helping to fill labour gaps across the region.
Under that initiative, the four Atlantic provinces nominated about 2,500 workers in 2018 to fill labour market needs, according to a news release from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC.) The concept aims to grow local populations by building community ties with the newcomers through employment, education and social programs so they remain in the area instead of moving on to a bigger city.
Hussen hinted at the possibility of expanding the immigration pilot to northern and remote communities last summer, after hearing from employers about the acute need for labour and skills during a roundtable discussion in Sudbury.
Community applications open
At the time, Hussen said the federal government was working to reduce wait times for immigration and visa applications and boost funding for settlement services, but was considering other measures to attract and retain skilled workers in rural and remote regions.
Hussen announced that as of today, IRCC will seek applications from interested communities in Ontario, Western Canada and the territories to take part in the pilot. Quebec oversees its own economic immigration program.
Communities have until March 1 to apply, and those selected can begin picking candidates for permanent residence this summer.
“Immigration is a central pillar of Canada’s economic success,” Hussen said in a statement. “The economic and social benefits of immigration are apparent in communities across Canada. By creating an immigration pilot aimed at rural, remote and northern communities, we’re looking to ensure that the benefits of immigration are shared across the country.”
A recently released study found immigration rates were lowest in the country on Prince Edward Island, where fewer than one in five immigrants remained on the Island after five years.
The study from the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council used tax records to track whether immigrants remain in the province, and used 2016 records as the most recent ones available.