Nfld. & Labrador·Opinion

Ukraine crisis gives N.L. a chance to show how committed it is to newcomers

The war in the Ukraine is not the first time that Newfoundlanders have been called on to welcome newcomers fleeing a crisis. As Tony Fang and David Brake write for CBC Opinion, it will not be the last.

Making N.L. attractive to newcomers is the only way to ensure a thriving and prosperous future

A combination of the Newfoundland and Labrador and the Ukrainian flag hangs in a window in a home in St. John's. (Paul Daly/CBC)

This column is an opinion by Tony Fang and David Brake. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

Sadly, the war in the Ukraine is not the first time that Newfoundlanders have been called on to welcome newcomers fleeing a crisis and it will not be the last. 

But this time the need to help Ukrainians coincides with a rising awareness at all levels of government and among the public and employers that Canada, and this province in particular, has an urgent need to attract and retain international newcomers of all kinds to protect its future.

For years we and others have been warning of the challenges that the province will face as the province's population declines. The government's own projections show that if we don't draw in more people than leave the province, our population would drop by almost 50,000 by 2040. 

The 1990s and early 2000s saw few international immigrants but since 2013 there has been a sharp increase. The government's five-year Way Forward on Immigration successfully sought to grow annual immigrant intake by 50 per cent, and last year the premier announced a plan to triple the number of annual immigrants by 2026.

This would still only bring immigration levels up to the Canadian average, however, and other Atlantic provinces set and achieved more aggressive immigrant targets in the last decade.

The biggest concern about immigration raised in a recent opinion survey we commissioned is that too many newcomers who arrive here and become permanent residents leave for other Canadian provinces where there are more immigrants already and more extensive support.

Focusing on immigration policy

Refugees and permanent residents (and those applying for that status) can access a range of government support that other immigrants have historically not been available to, including medical care, pharmacare, language classes and other support for integration.

But because attaining refugee status can be difficult and time-consuming, the federal government decided to set up a new form of temporary immigration status for Ukrainians (CUAET).

This has helped focus attention on some of the areas where immigration policy and services could be improved to encourage more temporary immigrants to stay. The page of information aimed at Ukrainians provided by the Office of Immigration and Multiculturalism in their own language and the provision by the province of health care and a basic drug plan on arrival for Ukrainians demonstrates a growing government awareness and commitment. 

And an early sign of the way this is starting to benefit newcomers more broadly is the decision to waive fees for anyone applying for the Provincial Nominee Program. 

The first flight with Ukrainians fleeing the war is scheduled to arrive in Newfoundland and Labrador on Monday. (CBC)

The strong support for Ukrainians shown by the N.L. government is welcome, and recent surveys we have commissioned show employers and the public share a recognition of the need to encourage newcomers to come and stay.

The recent announcement of an anti-racist working group reporting to St. John's City Council and the increased funding for anti-racism work in the provincial budget are encouraging.

But further sustained effort and research will be needed.

Let's talk about barriers

International immigrants — particularly those from visible minorities — still face significant barriers. Like other provinces who have historically had low levels of international immigration, N.L. still has much to do to understand the integration needs of newcomers and provide the supports necessary to help them thrive. 

Some of the difficulties newcomers find most daunting are not obviously "immigrant issues." For example, several reports have highlighted that the province's lack of high quality public transit can cause particular difficulties for newcomer families, many of whom can't afford to drive or can't easily get driving licences.

Other reforms — making it easier for newcomers to have their professional and academic qualifications recognized, for example, or ensuring they have access to affordable housing — will take longer and cannot be easily solved without additional funding, political will and public support.

Nonetheless, Newfoundland and Labrador, like other Atlantic provinces, is at a crossroads.

The awareness that has been raised of the needs Ukrainians should help drive reforms for all newcomers, and many of these will also benefit those already living in the province.

And the more newcomers are already here and happy to stay, the easier it will be to attract others from their home communities to join them.

It is no exaggeration to say that making N.L. attractive to newcomers is the only way to ensure a thriving and prosperous future for the province.

Ukrainian refugees arrived in Newfoundland this week, but what supports will they need if local officials want to help them build a life there? Matt Galloway talks to new arrival Lesya Dunaevskaya, local volunteer Brandon Ramey, and Tony Fang, a professor of economics at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Tony Fang is the Stephen Jarislowsky Chair in Economic and Cultural Transformation at Memorial University's Economics Department leading a team of immigration researchers.  David Brake is a St John's-based journalist and researcher on the chair's team.

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