Pilot changes opens up possibilities for international student

·3 min read

Changes to the program aimed at attracting and retaining skilled immigrants are giving an international student hope she can stay in Timmins.

Until changes to the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) program were announced last week, Anakha Johnson was about to leave for Prince Edward Island to apply to be a permanent resident through the Atlantic Immigration Program (AIP).

"I think now I am hopeful that I can continue to stay in Timmins. This announcement is huge. It opens a whole lot of possibilities for me," said Johnson, who is a personal support worker.

Last week, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser was in town to announce that RNIP is being extended to 2024 instead of ending at the end of this year. The local boundaries have also been expanded, with the Timmins area now covering the Highway 11 corridor from Hearst to the Cobalt area and west on Highway 101 to Foleyet.

"I spent a lot of money and effort to come to Canada. It is one of my biggest dreams to live in Canada (as a permanent resident). I cannot even imagine going back to India without having (permanent residency) despite my best efforts," Johnson said.

RNIP is based on the Atlantic pilot that launched in March 2017. AIP was made a permanent program in March 2022.

There is already interest in Northern Ontario to have the RNIP as a permanent program as well. Fraser has said that if the local pilot's a success, the federal government would look to make it permanent.

The key markers Fraser said the government looks for is if the program's working and whether it can be expanded or shifted to make sure the needs of local communities are met.

Because of the pandemic, the government's also looking to understand RNIP in a world where the borders are more open and it's easier for people to arrive.

Until recently, Johnson was planning to go to PEI to file her application through AIP. She was offered a job there and even though the salary was less, she was going to move because being a permanent resident is a priority.

The tuition and other expenses cost almost $30,000 to finish one year of study, she said.

"I have spent hard-earned money here. I was hoping to have a good life after my studies. But without getting (permanent residency), that is not possible," she added. In addition, she is also afraid that the education credentials she achieved in Canada might not be valid in India.

Now, with the extension, she is planning to file for permanent residency through RNIP.

"One of the goals of RNIP is to help retain newcomers to rural and northern areas. So, that's something that this program is unique versus express entry or the provincial nominee program," said Madison Mizzau, the community development consultant at TEDC.

Mizzau said the program is successful so far. There have been 217 community recommendations issued since the start of the pilot. About 88 per cent of the applicants are international students from the Timmins area.

There are 108 employers from 16 sectors participating in the program.

Mizzau is happy that Johnson is planning to stay in Timmins.

"We anticipate more people staying. We anticipate more people moving here as well because we have had several applicants who have come from outside of Timmins. And that's really what the program is meant to do," Mizzau said.

International students should tune into the TEDC And Timmins and District Multicultural Centre Facebook pages for more information about RNIP.

"I encourage them to ask questions. They should be able to walk up to the offices and ask," said Ifeoma Kasimanwuna, Timmins Local Immigration Partnership coordinator.

She said the extension of RNIP will help the multicultural fabric of society to be stronger.

Kasimanwuna thinks the demographics of Timmins is changing and RNIP is helping it.

Jinsh Rayaroth, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com