HALIFAX — Atlantic Canada's push to attract more immigration will get a boost in the new year when a pilot program established in 2017 is made permanent, federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said Friday.
Fraser announced that starting Jan. 1, the newly named Atlantic Immigration Program will initially offer 6,000 dedicated spots, with the allocation between the four Atlantic provinces yet to be determined. The permanent establishment of the program comes at an opportune time, he said, as the economy struggles to emerge from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
"With labour shortages top of mind as we seek to exit this pandemic recession, it's going to help businesses attract the skilled newcomers they need," Fraser told reporters.
Launched in 2017, the pilot program allows employers designated by the provinces to make job offers to immigration applicants in order to help fill vacancies in sectors including health care, accommodations, food services and manufacturing. Candidates accepted into the program are granted permanent resident status in Canada.
The minister said there is a growing acceptance of the need for more immigrants, both nationally and in the Atlantic region, which he said is seeking to reverse demographic trends, such as an increasingly aging population.
"I've witnessed a serious change in the attitudes toward newcomers," Fraser said about Atlantic Canada.
Jason Shannon, president and CEO of Shannex, which operates long-term care facilities in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario, said the new program is important at a time when demand for health-care services is growing across the region.
"Which obviously brings an increase in demand for health-care workers," Shannon told reporters. He said his company had successfully attracted 160 workers through the program — many of whom settled in small communities such as Debert, N.S., and Miramichi, N.B.
He said many of the internationally educated nurses Shannex has recruited work as certified personal care workers while they wait for their Canadian credentials to become registered nurses or licensed practical nurses.
Fraser said that since its inception, the program has brought more than 10,000 newcomers to the Atlantic region, resulting in 9,800 job offers. He said the program has also had success in retaining applicants, with 90 per cent choosing to remain in the Atlantic region one year after settling in Canada.
But that number dips to around 78 per cent in the second year, according to a 2020 evaluation of the program carried out by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Still, Fraser said the program has a higher retention rate than other economic programs in the Atlantic region.
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, whose province recently reached the one-million mark in population, according to Statistics Canada, said the program will help support his province's drive to have two million residents by 2060.
"Nova Scotia has already grown five times faster in the past five years than it had in the previous 25 years," Houston said. "This is momentum that we must keep building on."
According to the province, the program has attracted 4,485 people to Nova Scotia since 2017.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 17, 2021.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press