Nova Scotia should improve immigration system to meet ambitious goals: auditor

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia must have a better understanding of what immigrants need to settle in the province, as the government sets out ambitious targets to boost the general population, says a new auditor general report.

The province is spending $6.4 million a year on immigrant settlement services without a “strong understanding” of whether the money is helping to keep them from moving elsewhere, Kim Adair said in a report released Tuesday.

Adair said the Immigration Department has not conducted an analysis of what types of services are needed to assist immigrants to settle in Nova Scotia, adding that the government relies too heavily on outside organizations for that kind of information.

“Without a thorough assessment to determine the needs of immigrants, it is very difficult to know what settlement services are required, which service providers should receive funding, and whether any gaps exist,” Adair’s report said.

Currently there are 18 immigrant settlement providers operating in the province that offer services such as language training, employment counselling and community welcoming programs, the auditor general said. The government, Adair said, has not properly analyzed the types of services provided, where the services are offered or the demand for them.

“For example, assessing whether language training is available in all regions of the province, or determining whether demand for specific settlement services is greater in some regions than others,” the report said.

Adair said feedback from immigrants could be valuable in determining where future funding should be targeted, adding that the province needs to better identify gaps in the labour market so that spending is effective at matching newcomers to jobs.

“We recommended that rather than just be responsive, to have in place a process so that they (government) can get in front of it because it takes time to … change their focused efforts on particular gaps in the labour force,” Adair told reporters later on Tuesday.

She said her audit also found inconsistencies in the way the province assesses immigration applications, which she said leaves the system open to fraud.

Adair said improvements in those areas are needed because the province plans to double its population to two million people by 2060.

To get there, she said, the current retention rate of 70 per cent needs to be boosted to 75 per cent, meaning annual population growth would have to more than double to 25,000 per year from about 10,000 people a year.

Immigration Minister Jill Balser said work is underway on the auditor general’s recommendations, such as researching how settlement funding can best meet the needs of immigrants.

“More and more newcomers are coming to Nova Scotia and the services need to be nimble and adapt so that we are always constantly meeting individual needs,” Balser said.

As well, she said her department is adding 12 new positions to process immigrant applications more consistently and two new positions to conduct fraud investigations and program compliance reviews.

Nova Scotia welcomed a record number of immigrants in 2021 — 9,160 people — and has already surpassed that figure as of August of this year with 9,375 people.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2022.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press