A new B.C. program that incentivizes immigrants to settle in areas outside Metro Vancouver has drawn mixed reactions from newcomers to the province.
Under the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP), any immigrant who has experience working outside the Metro Vancouver Regional District can claim additional points toward their permanent residency application if they have a qualifying job offer in that area.
Under the Nov. 16 change to the province's permanent residency program, the Immigration Programs department began inviting foreign workers to help grow the economy across the province.
Just over 14,400 people were admitted to the province under the PNP from 2019 to 2021, according to federal figures.
Census figures show nearly 78 per cent of immigrants to B.C. from 2016 to 2021 made Metro Vancouver their home.
Where new immigrants to B.C. settled from 2016 to 2021
Parwinder Singh, an Abbotsford-based immigration consultant, says the new system could net immigrants up to 25 additional points in their PNP application, with a total of 200 required to qualify.
But some newcomers say it's tough to find well-paying jobs outside B.C.'s most populated region.
Gurveer Singh, who has been waiting more than two years to get permanent residency (PR), says some immigration consultants had told him to move to the Interior to qualify more easily.
"I've been living in Surrey for around five years. I have made connections in this region," said Singh, 24, who moved from Punjab, India. "Now, it is not feasible for me to move to another place just to get PR."
Singh, who has a diploma in digital music production, says he visited Hope in the Fraser Valley to gauge whether there were any opportunities for someone with his skills.
"In the Vancouver region, people share rooms to afford the rent but when I went to Hope, I felt that the accommodation was [still] very costly," he said. "I [only] found jobs with minimum wages in Hope."
Singh, who also tried to find opportunities in Victoria, Kamloops and Kelowna, says Metro Vancouver's significant Punjabi-speaking population meant there were more opportunities for him to find a digital production job.
The Lower Mainland, and Surrey in particular, has been a hotbed of Punjabi music over the last decade.
Advocates welcome change
Still, others are more enthused by the province's move.
Gordon Shuster, director of international education at Okanagan College, a post-secondary institution with campuses in the southern Interior, says the move to change requirements is a good one, in light of the growing number of international students in B.C.
"This region has a lot of job opportunities, and students feel it is less expensive compared to the Metro Vancouver region," he said.
Queenie Choo, CEO of S.U.C.C.E.S.S. — a social services organization helping new immigrants — says it's imperative for new jobs in industries like health care and technology be made available in smaller B.C. communities to attract immigrants, as well as broader supports.
"We should have the services available to those people living outside of Metro Vancouver," she said. "I'm talking about, maybe, settlement services, resettlement services for refugees.
"Having newcomers understand the situation and employment opportunities in B.C. certainly will help them to think and consider their destination of choice."
Other provinces with similar programs
Raghbir Singh Bharowal, a Surrey-based immigration consultant, says immigrants currently living in Metro Vancouver should also look to alternative permanent residency paths, such as the federal express entry.
Gurpreet Bawa, an education consultant based in Jalandhar, India, says he thinks PNP changes might lead to students choosing other provinces to settle in. A 2017 report estimated that a quarter of all international students in Canada were in B.C.
Other provinces also reward immigrants who settle outside major cities. For instance, Ontario's Immigrant Nominee Program incentivizes newcomers to settle outside the Greater Toronto Area.
The federal government also has a Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot project that attempts to attract newcomers to 11 smaller communities across the country, including two in B.C.
"Historically, immigrants are attracted to major urban centres, but their skills and talents are needed in all regions across the province," said a spokesperson for the B.C. municipal affairs ministry in a statement.