OTTAWA — Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says 11 communities the federal government is choosing for a new rural immigration program will gain new workers and citizens that are badly needed to boost dwindling economies.
On Friday Hussen announced the communities chosen for the "rural and northern immigration pilot" — a program that will give rural employers the ability to directly select immigrants to hire in their businesses and will also give immigrants the ability to choose one of these 11 communities to make their permanent residence.
By taking the decisions on matching immigrants to employers and communities out of Ottawa's hands, rural and northern areas struggling with population declines and worker shortages hope to find newcomers who want to come and stay.
"People don't realize just how much the rural economy needs immigration," Hussen said.
He has spoken to rural employers desperate for workers, some of whom are turning away multimillion-dollar contracts because of a lack of skilled labour.
"Some of them are saying, 'We're going to make decisions to move if we don't have the workers that we need,' and that's just unacceptable. And I know how much these small towns are relying on that large employer to stay in place."
With more than two-thirds of immigrants to Canada settling in bigger cities, municipal leaders in smaller towns and communities have been calling on Ottawa to do more to help them attract newcomers.
A number of rural communities have already been investing in settlement and integration supports for newcomers to make their towns more attractive to immigrants looking for permanent homes in Canada.
That's what Ottawa was looking for when choosing the 11 communities. Now, those areas will receive a range of supports to test the new program.
The selected communities are:
—Thunder Bay, Sault-Ste-Marie, Sudbury, Timmins and North Bay, Ont.
—Gretna-Rhineland-Altona-Plum Coulee and Brandon, Man.
—Moose Jaw, Sask.
—West Kootenay and Vernon, B.C.
This new program is designed after an experiment that has seen success in expanding the population and filling labour needs in the Atlantic provinces.
The Atlantic model sees immigrants arriving in the region with job offers and settlement plans for them and their families. Before the program was introduced, the retention rate for newcomers in Nova Scotia was at 60 per cent — four in 10 immigrants moved on before long. Now, more than 90 per cent of immigrants who arrive in Nova Scotia through this program are staying.
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press