'Where is Newfoundland?': N.L. sees lowest immigration rate in Atlantic Canada: report
Prior to Ukraine crisis, N.L. welcomed fewer than 4,000 immigrants between 2016-2021
Newfoundland and Labrador may be in the midst of its largest population growth since the 1970s, but a new report from Statistics Canada paints a bleak picture for the province's immigration numbers in the previous five years.
Newfoundland and Labrador has experienced the least growth through immigration in Atlantic Canada from 2016 to 2021, welcoming only 0.3 per cent of all landed immigrants in Canada in that period.
Nearly one in four people counted in the 2021 census are, or have been, a landed immigrant in the country, and more than 1.3 million new immigrants settled permanently in Canada between 2016 and 2021. That's the highest number of recent immigrants ever recorded in a Canadian Census.
However, fewer than 4,000 of those immigrants settled in Newfoundland and Labrador. Meanwhile, the share of recent immigrants settling in Atlantic Canada has almost tripled, rising from 1.2 per cent to 3.5 per cent since 2006.
The numbers reflect a period before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has led to a boots-on-the-ground approach to recruiting refugees to move to the province.
'Where is Newfoundland?'
That kind of approach would have helped Abdul Manan Mehraban — an Afghanistan man who knew nothing about the province before arriving two months ago.
Within his first week in St. John's, he and his best friend found jobs as cooks at a chain restaurant and are staying in a hotel while they try to find housing.
Before finding out he was heading to Newfoundland and Labrador, Mehraban admits, he had never even heard of the province.
"In the past, we didn't hear about Newfoundland," said Mehraban. "When our flight come, we were confused. Where is Newfoundland?"
Despite being unsure where he was headed, Mehraban believes destiny brought him to St. John's rather than a larger Canadian city, adding that the people and the experience have been "great" thus far.
"We don't have any ocean in Afghanistan," said Mehraban. "It was my dream to one day [be] sitting in the beach. So [it's been] great for us."
As for why fellow immigrants may be heading to other parts of the country, Mehraban noted that many people aren't given the option to choose where they end up, instead being told where they would ultimately resettle. He might not have stayed here if he'd been given the choice originally, he said.
"Because I was thinking about Toronto. I was thinking about Vancouver. I was thinking about Calgary. It's not the [people's] choice."
He added that while he had never heard about the province before his arrival, he hopes to stay and build the local Afghan community.
'We're not going anywhere'
While newcomers like Mehraban are still settling into their new province, many immigrants have been here for years, building families and laying roots.
Jerry Joy, originally from India, moved with his wife to St. John's from Dublin in 2011. Today, he is the owner of The Indian Express restaurant.
"My family, my kids, they love this place," said Joy. "Two of my kids [were] born here. They are Newfies. So, we are not going anywhere."
Joy explained that he frequently tells newcomers that they "have to give this place a chance," adding that once you learn to live with a little bit of cold weather, everything else falls into place.
Despite the low numbers, Joy said, the province has come a long way in welcoming immigrants over the past decade. Joy said there were many things his family couldn't get when they arrived in 2011.
"Food is something we always relate to, right?'' said Joy. "We feel homesick with food. That's one main thing, we couldn't find any ingredients, but now it's not the same. We can get anything here. I run a business and I source everything locally. St. John's has come a long way."
As an employer, Joy has dealt with difficulties in the labour market. The recent influx of immigrants to the province can help fix that problem.
"As an employer, I'm thrilled. [We're] all short of labour force," said Joy. "I personally know of at least 35 nurses who moved to Newfoundland in the last two to three weeks.There's a big shortage in the nursing sector right now. That will help.
"More diversity, more cultural differences. This will add to the colourfulness of the city."
Immigration minister encouraged by census data
Despite the low grade, Immigration, Population Growth and Skills Minister Gerry Byrne said the report is welcome news and an indication of bigger and better things to come for the province.
While the numbers may be lower than in other provinces, he said, they are still a big increase over previous years in Newfoundland and Labrador.
"Statistics Canada Census 2021 data tell us the number of immigrants settling in Newfoundland and Labrador tripled from 2006 to 2021," said Byrne in a statement to CBC News. "This threefold increase is welcome news that bears out what we are all seeing — more and more newcomers are choosing to settle in our province."
In addition, Byrne pointed to the increased number of permanent residents in N.L., saying 2021 was a record year for nominations for permanent residency, with some 2,050 people nominated — an 87 per cent increase from 2020.
He said 2022 is on track to be another record year, and noted that there is "a concerted effort" by the provincial government to welcome 5,100 newcomers by 2026.
With files from Heather Gillis