Rural towns wrestle with stacks of PNP applications
Some towns say they're swamped by the workload, but excited by opportunity to attract newcomers
Some smaller communities in rural P.E.I. are struggling to manage the workload they've taken on as endorsing communities for the provincial nominee program.
The P.E.I. office of immigration has signed agreements with 14 communities, towns or cities across rural P.E.I. since November to participate in the PNP business impact program as endorsing communities.
Places such as Montague, Summerside and Kensington have since been receiving business plans and meeting with immigration agents and potential applicants interested in setting up or investing in businesses in their communities.
Andrew Daggett, chief administrative officer for Montague, said the community is grateful for the opportunity to attract new business development, but he is surprised by the amount of interest the town has received.
"It's been a little overwhelming," Daggett said. "It got to the point where keeping hard copies is not something I'm doing anymore simply because it's so much paperwork."
Daggett said he's looked at over 30 files, met with 20 applicants and endorsed approximately 15 candidates.
"It's one of those things where it's a blessing and a curse, both, because the smaller areas need the immigration, we need people moving into the area and businesses in the area," Daggett said. "But we're the ones least capable of handling all the extra workload that's being put on us."
He added that in order to get an endorsement from a community on P.E.I., an applicant has to make a trip to the Island to meet with representatives from that community and present their business plan.
"It's fairly time consuming, each client is probably taking — between the interview and the paperwork — a couple hours, two and a half hours, which doesn't seem like much except when you're dealing with five a week," Daggett explained. "That gets a little overwhelming."
New target areas for immigrants
In November of last year, the provincial government announced it would partner with communities outside of Charlottetown, Cornwall and Stratford to endorse immigrants applying to come to the Island.
The office of immigration also changed its process for assessing PNP applications earlier this year. The new expression of interest model awards applicants points based on their skills, language abilities, business plans, as well as endorsements from communities on P.E.I.
The new model awards applicants with an endorsement from a rural community 35 points. Applicants who receive endorsements from Charlottetown, Stratford or Cornwall are awarded 10 points.
If a potential applicant receives an endorsement from a community, their application is sent to the province for further review and the highest-scoring candidates will then receive an invitation to submit an application to the P.E.I. PNP.
Time consuming process
Geoff Baker, chief administrative officer for Kensington, said the process is going well and he's hosted meetings with over a dozen candidates interested in coming to the community.
"It's probably a little more interest than we had anticipated and obviously scheduling meetings and reviewing applications and things of that nature has consumed quite a bit of time," he said.
Baker said he is the only staff member in Kensington dedicated to the PNP program and although the process is going well, it's added to his already full work schedule.
"I've been at this for about three weeks and I've got a file that's four inches thick," Baker said. "It is a facet of our operation that we've never had to deal with before. So we're slowly getting our head wrapped around what sort of time we're going to be dealing with and how we're going to manage within that."
Meanwhile, other endorsing communities said they would like to see more applications submitted to their offices. O'Leary Mayor Eric Gavin said he's sent out one endorsement so far and he's hoping to give out several more.
"I'd like to see 50," Gavin said. "Honestly, truly, even more than that if it's possible."
More settlement services needed
Daggett said Montague has representatives from the PEI Association of Newcomers to Canada working at town hall twice a week, but he can foresee the town needing more support for settlement services once newcomers start to arrive.
"We're probably going to need more staff like that when this all rolls out," Daggett said. "From our point we'll be trying to make those first contacts, finding them where to live, where they're going to do their business."
A representative from the office of immigration said endorsing communities are responsible for settlement in co-operation with the various settlement service organizations across the province. They added that the province's role is to ensure immigrants have all the information they need about moving to P.E.I. and are adhering to the agreement they sign under the program.
Although the last six weeks have been a time crunch, Dagget said, things do seem to be slowing down.
"We're getting a lot more selective," he said. "I think as we go it will get better, we'll learn from what we're doing, we'll learn where we need to be more selective and hopefully in the end we'll still be getting clients, but we'll be getting clients that are better suited for our area and that really fill a gap that we've recognized."
In a written statement to CBC, the office of immigration said the interest the communities are seeing is a positive sign that the changes it's made are having the desired effect.
The statement added that endorsing communities are "not required to meet a quota of any kind under the program" and have the flexibility to determine how many files to review and process.
The office of immigration said it will continue to work with municipalities throughout the endorsement process.