For immigrants in N.L., 'friendly' doesn't always mean 'welcoming:' economist

·2 min read

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador prides itself on being a friendly place to visit, but a St. John's economist says that doesn't mean it's a welcoming place to live — especially for immigrants.

Tony Fang, a professor at Memorial University, says it's great to see the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives commit to increasing immigration to the province as part of their platforms in the provincial election.

Attracting new people is exactly what the province should be doing, Fang said. "But can you actually retain them? That's a big question," he said in a recent interview.

A successful immigration policy, he explained, is built through an anti-racism lens and through a recognition that it's systemic racism and subtle discrimination that's causing people to pack up and move away.

Newfoundland and Labrador has the country's most rapidly aging population and has a low birthrate and a high rate of out-migration, according to Statistics Canada. The province has a yearly net loss of people — particularly young people, especially in rural areas, which Fang said are "resistant to immigration."

The Progressive Conservative party released its platform Friday, becoming the last of the three main parties to do so before the Feb. 13 election. The Tories' so-called "blue book" commits to boosting immigration and targeting people who can fill gaps in regional labour markets.

The Tories have also committed to launching programs to attract remote workers to the province. After introducing his party's platform, Tory Leader Ches Crosbie told reporters his party will have a "zero-tolerance policy on racism." The Liberals have equally committed to increasing immigration to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Fang points out that his research indicates that immigrants want good jobs but employers, especially those in rural areas of the province, are more likely to favour work experience in Canada and to hire locals. Employers, Fang said, "don't have the capacity to value ... the worth of that foreign education or foreign experience."

As for the province's celebrated friendliness, Fang points out that while studies show Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have a strong sense of belonging to their communities, those tight-knit allegiances can disadvantage newcomers.

"It's very hard to break into these tight social networks," he said, adding that he's also heard concerns about an "invasion" into local culture.

Fang says the reticence of rural parts of the province to favour immigration can likely be explained by a lack of exposure to newcomers. Newfoundland and Labrador already has one of the lowest immigration rates in the country, he said, adding that many people and employers in smaller towns haven't had much interaction with people from other countries.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2021.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press