With Newfoundland and Labrador's population in decline, the St. John's Board of Trade says it's time for the province to change its immigration rules.

'Having that category really allows us to expand who we can open our doors to.' - Dorothy Keating

Recent data shows there are 2,000 fewer people in the province than there were just a year ago; Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province in Canada to see its population drop over the last 12 months.

Need for entrepreneur category

Board chair Dorothy Keating said while the provincial government has taken some steps toward attracting new immigrants, the board would like to see the creation of an entrepreneur category to its immigrant nominee program so that the province can bring in business owners from other countries.

Under the current program, people must be sponsored with a job lined up in the province to apply for immigration.

"If they are entrepreneurs, and we get this category open to welcome individuals in who will create their own positions and positions for others, that will allow us to really expand on who can come in and what can be achieved here," Keating said.

In an emailed response to CBC, a spokesperson for the Department of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour said the government is exploring opportunities to introduce new categories to its immigration policy, and already supports international students looking to establish businesses through the startup visa program.

"Provincial officials are actively working with Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada on an approach that is responsive to the Newfoundland and Labrador demographic and economic context," wrote the spokesperson.

Catching up with rest of Canada

Keating said the rest of the country has an entrepreneur category and she can point to many examples where bringing in business owners from outside Canada has worked out very well for both them and their communities.

She also said there are cases where international students studying in Newfoundland developed their own organizations only to find there were barriers stopping them from developing them further once they graduated.

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Keating says in some cases international students have developed organizations or ideas for businesses only to run into red tape trying to stay in Newfoundland and Labrador to turn those ideas into businesses. (CBC)

An entrepreneur program would help with Newfoundland and Labrador's population crisis, Keating argues, and as a result would help the province out of its fiscal crisis as well.

"Many of them are fantastic entrepreneurs with ideas and things that they can bring to our province to create employment and create wealth for all of us," she said.

"So having that category really allows us to expand who we can open our doors to."

With files from Fred Hutton