Nova Scotia

N.B., P.E.I. seek more skilled immigrants while N.S. sticks to original target

Each Atlantic province received a different quota of spots in the Atlantic Immigration Pilot project, with Nova Scotia taking the lion's share in 2017. However, that has changed in 2018, with New Brunswick capturing more spots.

Nova Scotia, which once held the lion's share of available spots, is being outpaced by New Brunswick

Lena Diab says increasing immigration is a top priority for her government. (Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia's immigration department is standing by a decision to wait before seeking more skilled foreign worker allocations under a federal pilot program as P.E.I. and New Brunswick have done this year.

Despite leading the Maritime provinces with the number of applicants it could accept when the Atlantic Immigration Pilot was first launched, Nova Scotia is now being outpaced by New Brunswick.

Nova Scotia Immigration Minister Lena Diab said her staff have filled 570 of its allotted 792 spots for 2018, and are on track to fill the rest by the end of the year. 

Until then, Diab said there's no need to seek federal approval for a larger share of the program, which was designed to bring thousands of immigrants to the Atlantic region each year for three years.

"So we are building momentum, and it takes time," she said. "Really, employers and businesses — most of them have never ever used immigration."

Diab said her office is maximizing its programs, which for the last two years have managed to turn Nova Scotia's shrinking population into modest growth. 

Federal pilot program

The immigration pilot, launched in March 2017, was introduced to bring more skilled workers to the region by quickly identifying employers who need workers and reducing permanent resident processing time to six months or less. 

Each Atlantic province received a different quota of available spots, with Nova Scotia taking the lion's share at 792. However, in 2017, the province only filled 201 of those spots, causing the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration to tweak its strategy for this year.

"We have increased our employer awareness and engagement sessions. We are meeting with employers one on one. We're organizing events across the entire province," Diab said.

The Atlantic Immigration Pilot is a three-year program designed to attract new families to areas with labour shortages. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

The province has organized events for employers in Sydney and Guysborough. As well, information sessions were held at all 10 universities and the Nova Scotia Community College to let international students know they can use the Atlantic Immigration Pilot with an employer. 

The Office of Immigration has also partnered with agencies like the Halifax Partnership and Cape Breton Partnership to try to increase the visibility of the program. 

In July, the federal government opened 500 additional spots in the program, bringing the total number to 2,500. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said the spots were given on a first come, first served basis. New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island negotiated to take 400 and 100 spots, respectively. 

That brings New Brunswick's 2018 quota to 1,046 spots from 646. It has filled 796 so far this year.

P.E.I.'s 2018 quota is up to 220 spots from 120, of which it has filled 140 so far.

Any spots that remain unfilled at the end of the year are not transferrable to the next year. 

Role of settlement agencies

Jennifer Watts, the executive director of Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, noted the pilot program is driven by employers, who must identify a potential immigrant and come up with a job offer at the start of the process. 

"Sometimes there's a question of why it may be getting off to a slow start," said Watts, whose association is assisting the province to implement the program.

For the last two years, Nova Scotia's immigration programs have helped turn the province's shrinking population into modest growth. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

She said one of the challenges is that many businesses in the province are small and medium enterprises.

"They may not have HR departments. There may be some hesitancy." 

However, Watts said settlement agencies such as her association stand ready to help employers figure out how to settle any potential new employees. 

'Unique' labour needs

Diab said she could not comment on whether P.E.I. and New Brunswick are taking a different approach than Nova Scotia, saying all the Atlantic provinces have "unique" labour needs.

Once Nova Scotia reaches its current yearly target, Diab said she will negotiate for more spots.

"When we meet that number then we will work with IRCC [Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada] as we always do ... to get more," she said. "Right now we are working toward our 792 number."  

Diab said she feels the calibre of candidates coming to Nova Scotia is strong. 

"We're getting a lot of uptake in what I would call high-skilled. I can't speak to other provinces in terms of their processes or what they are doing, but I am confident in what Nova Scotia's doing," she said.  

Diab noted the provincial nominee programs, which are distinct from the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, also continue to bring in people under various streams. She said increasing immigration is a high priority for her government, and that the numbers of people arriving under different programs must be examined overall.

Diab pointed to numbers from Statistics Canada that showed there have been 3,530 people who landed between Jan. 1 and Jul. 31 in Nova Scotia. 

"I was actually thrilled," she said.  

Diab said by way of comparison, in the same time period in 2016, there were 3,890 admissions of permanent residents. That year the province's population hit a record high, fuelled in part by 1,475 Syrian refugees who arrived in the first quarter. Most of the landings this year were not refugees. 

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Shaina Luck

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Shaina Luck covers everything from court to city council. Her favourite stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca