Thunder Bay·Audio

Match immigrants to jobs to boost North's economy, workforce: Northern Policy Institute

A simple change to Canada's immigration policy could help attract more skilled immigrants to rural municipalities, and retain them, by matching them up with available jobs, a new report by a Northern Ontario think tank says.

New paper calls for municipalities to work with province to attract and retain immigrants

The Northern Policy Institute is calling for a change in Canada's immigration policy that would allow immigrants to be paired with jobs in rural communities based on their skills. (CBC)

A simple change to Canada's immigration policy could help attract more skilled immigrants to rural municipalities, and retain them, by matching them up with available jobs, a new report by a Northern Ontario think tank says.

A "provincial nominee program" would essentially put more immigration power in the hands of municipalities, who know what they're lacking in terms of workforce, and what jobs aren't being filled by their population.

Charles Cirtwill, president of the Northern Policy Institute, said such a system matches pre-approved immigrants with those jobs, based on their skill set.

But that's not how the Canadian immigration system is currently set up, Cirtwill said, adding that it focuses on three things: refugees, family re-integration, and high-skill immigrants.

Demand for mid-skill workers

However, many municipalities in places like Northern Ontario don't necessarily have much demand for high-skill workers. Instead, Cirtwill said, the demand is for mid-skill workers, people who need a certification and a degree for their jobs.

Those immigrants aren't currently considered a priority by the federal government, Cirtwill said.

Examples of mid-skill jobs, Cirtwill said, include truck drivers, personal support workers, and some trades.

"We have lots of those jobs available here," Cirtwill said.

And bringing immigrants to the north would offset some of the imbalance currently seen in where immigrants to Canada choose to settle.

Geographical imbalance

"Most immigrants to Canada go to three places," Cirtwill said. "They go to Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. In Ontario, it's somewhere around 97, 98 per cent of all immigrants to the province go to the Greater Toronto Area."

The reason, Cirtwill said, is immigrants tend to want to go to places where there are large communities of people from their home country, or they have family members already residing.

The large influx of people to so few areas isn't ideal for the immigrants themselves, however, Cirtwill said.

"They are falling behind their neighbours and friends in Toronto, because there are so many of them there," he said. "Housing prices are soaring, job opportunities are weak. So they tend to be unemployed or under-employed at a higher level than immigrants who go to the rest of the province."

Workforce development

Meanwhile, he said, places like Thunder Bay have jobs that employers are finding hard to fill due to lack of skills in the workforce.

The proposed model would see the province get a list of approved immigrants from the federal government, and then give a list of potential immigrants to the municipalities themselves.

Manitoba has a similar system, and Cirtwill used the town of Morden as an example.

"What Morden did is said 'what are the jobs in our community that people here are not interested in taking?'" he said. "Then we're going to go to the list of already pre-screened, pre-approved immigrants to Canada, find the people somewhere on that list who match the job and say to them 'we have a job that fits your skills, are you interested in coming to Morden?'"

Most, Cirtwill said, say yes, because not only does it cut down on how long they have to wait to come to Canada, but they also come to the community with a job in hand.

Population growth, retention

The process saw Morden's population grow from 6,571 in 2006 to 8,668 in 2016.  Cirtwill added, immigrants often try to bring family or friends over to join them once they've settled in to their new community.

Morden also saw a high retention of immigrants: more than 80 per cent of the people who immigrated to the community stayed, Cirtwill said.

Cirtwill said he'd like to see the new system started as a pilot project in the North, and then expanded to the rest of Ontario if it proves successful.

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