Companies able to hire internationally to P.E.I. through federal program

More than 200 companies on P.E.I. are now designated to apply to hire foreign nationals under the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program that allows businesses to hire outside the country to fill positions they haven't been able to fill locally.

'We're seeing some vacancies right across P.E.I., from all areas, from rural to urban'

Six welders were hired for the MacDougall Steel fabrication facility in Borden-Carleton through the AIPP. (John Robertson/CBC)

More than 200 companies on P.E.I. are now designated to apply to hire foreign nationals under the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program (AIPP).

The federal program was launched in March 2017 in all four Atlantic provinces. It allows businesses to hire foreign nationals to fill positions they haven't been able to fill locally. 

"We're seeing some vacancies right across P.E.I., from all areas, from rural to urban," said Jamie Aiken, executive director of P.E.I.'s Office of Immigration.

"We're seeing some individuals that have very specialized quality assurance credentials; potentially engineers, machinists, that have various skill sets that aren't readily available here."

Aiken says they have seen a wide range of skill sets being filled through the AIPP. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Applicants who come to Canada through the program are granted immediate permanent residency. 

In 2017, P.E.I. was allocated 120 spots it could fill through the program — all of which were filled.

This year, the number of spots has jumped to 220. Aiken says more than 160 of those are already filled, and he expects all of them to be filled by the end of the year.

To try and help ensure the foreign nationals, and their family unit integrates well with the company, the community, and the Island way of life.- Jamie Aiken

There are other immigration programs that focus on skilled labour, but Aiken says this program has some key differences. 

"The program does have similarities with our Provincial Nominee Program, and express-entry programs the federal government administers," Aiken said.

"But the Atlantic pilot program, it's a bit unique in the sense that it develops a settlement strategy with the company and the foreign nationals. To try and help ensure the foreign nationals and their family unit integrates well with the company, the community, and the Island way of life."

Specialized workers needed

Some Island businesses were able to fill much needed positions through the program.

"We're looking to fill welders, fitters, project managers, estimators and even labourers in some cases," said Dave Clark, president of MacDougall Steel Erectors (MSE) in Borden-Carleton.

"We've been running ads for at least two years straight, pretty much continuous for most of these positions."

Clark said they've been able to hire some local welders in the past few months but it can still be difficult to fill all the needed positions required.

It has been pretty good, there has been a bit of a learning curve at first of course, but it's going quite well now.- Dave Clark

So Clark used AIPP to find six workers from overseas who had the welding skill sets the company needed.

The new workers have been helped with finding housing in the province and Clark says the goal is for them to become long-term employees at the company.

"It has been pretty good, there has been a bit of a learning curve at first of course, but it's going quite well now," Clark said.

MacDougall says they have a number of their own training programs to help develop worker's skills. (John Robertson/CBC)

Companies were already doing this kind of settlement work with international hires, Aiken said, but this program brings it all to the forefront and ensures that there are no gaps.

"We've seen a very positive response from our Island companies," said Aiken.

"We're working with our institutions to ensure that programs are available at Holland College and UPEI to match our labour needs here. But in the immediate needs, the immigration program does help these companies fill these shortages in the short term."

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With Files from Sarah MacMillan