Atlantic provinces struggling to attract skilled immigrants

If immigration is going to be an integral part of any strategy to solve Canada’s skills shortage, special steps will have to be taken in Atlantic Canada.

The problem, as it’s always been, is that few immigrants go there, gravitating instead to three cities: Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto. About 75 per cent of all immigrants head to one of the three, according to a new report from the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council.

Only about 3,000 immigrants arrived in the four Atlantic provinces last year. That’s less than two per cent of the total inflow to Canada, yet the region accounts for about eight per cent of the country’s population. Of those 3,000, about 75 per cent headed for Halifax.

And even after immigrants choose Atlantic Canada, employers struggle to keep them there; almost half of all immigrants who filed taxes in the Atlantic provinces between 1980 and 1995, had left the region by 1995.

The federal government oversees immigration and has signaled it plans to improve the flow of skilled immigrants into the country. Recently developed provincial nominee programs have given several provinces greater say in the process. In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island have all signed provincial nominee agreements. Nova Scotia is currently negotiating an agreement with Ottawa.

“Generally these programs are intended to give provinces more say in who they would recruit and more control in terms of who they have coming,” said Nabiha Atallah, manager of the immigrant entrepreneur program at the Halifax-based Metropolitan Immigrant Settlement Association.

These agreements allow provinces to recruit a specified number of economic class immigrants who meet unique provincial needs. These people are then fast-tracked through the federal process. Each province establishes a specific number of immigrants it will seek annually. On average about 103 economic class immigrants arrive in Newfoundland each year, the province hopes to add 60 through its program. New Brunswick attracts 156 skilled immigrants and hopes to attract an additional 200 under its program.

Aside from these programs, the Atlantic provinces need to do a better job of getting information to prospective immigrants. Many haven’t even heard of Atlantic Canada, said Atallah. And when marketing is done, potential immigrants aren’t warned about the challenges. Consequently, when they do move to the East Coast , many “aren’t prepared for the local scene.”

The lifestyle and pace of life is very different in Atlantic Canada, she said.
“The population base is small and they haven’t thought through the implications of that for starting a business. What it means is they have to look harder for opportunities and niche markets.”

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