MONCTON, N.B. — A program that helps international students to stay and work in Nova Scotia will be adopted by the three other Atlantic provinces as they try to grow their population.
Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said Atlantic Canada has a retention rate for skilled immigrants that "hovers at around 60 per cent," compared to rates of 90 per cent or higher in Ontario and Alberta.
Hussen said the region-wide extension of Nova Scotia's "Study and Stay" program will act as a compliment to the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Project announced in 2016 that connects immigrants and companies.
"It is very explicitly about retaining people here," Hussen told a news conference following a meeting Tuesday of federal politicians and Atlantic premiers in Moncton, N.B.
"Atlantic Canada has never had a problem attracting skilled immigrants — the problem is retention, so they come here and they don't stay."
Such programs are key because they involve companies in helping to establish local roots for skilled immigrants and their families, he said.
"We know that will vastly improve the retention rate," Hussen said. "I think it's great because it addresses a real challenge that is a little bit more acute in Atlantic Canada than the rest of the country."
In Nova Scotia, Study and Stay provides targeted support and services for up to 50 international students during their final year of post-secondary studies.
The program includes career mentoring and access to employment-related events and workshops, and there is also a subsidy to help local employers offset the cost of hiring students for a work-term after they graduate.
Karen Casey, Nova Scotia's deputy premier, said the program had received over 700 inquiries from international students, of which 49 students were selected for participation.
"We are looking each year to add more numbers to that," said Casey. "I think those numbers demonstrate first of all that there is an interest and second that we can make this work for international students."
Federal officials said the pilot program would be adapted to meet the specific needs of the other Atlantic provinces.
Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan said it's essential for all the Atlantic provinces to focus on measures that will grow the population, which in turn would help the economy to grow.
"What we are really talking about here is relationships," said MacLauchlan, pointing to a so-called bio-cluster of companies created on the Island, and its use of skilled immigrants.
"It's remarkable how many of those are driven by the talent, the knowledge and the relationships that have come from people that have come first to our region to study," he said.
Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the Atlantic Immigration Pilot had so far designated more than 900 Atlantic Canadian companies to employ skilled foreign workers and international graduates.
LeBlanc said the program had recruited over 1,300 immigrants to the region and more than 1,100 of those had received job offers and are able to apply for permanent residency.
Tuesday's meeting also included a discussion on Ottawa's inclusion of Atlantic Canada's Ocean Supercluster as part of its $950 million superclusters initiative.
The Ocean Supercluster is to utilize the combined talents of companies working in areas such as marine renewable energy, fisheries, aquaculture, oil and gas, defence and shipbuilding.
The ministers and premiers also announced they will lead a trade mission to China in November 2018 to advance business and educational trade ties.
- By Keith Doucette in Halifax
The Canadian Press