Immigrants don’t get much for $130,000

Nova Scotia scraps mentorship PNP and offers refunds

An immigration program aimed at attracting business managers and entrepreneurs to Nova Scotia by promising them business mentorships was doomed from the start, according to an immigration lawyer.

Most immigrants want to settle in Alberta or British Columbia, because of the hot job market, or Ontario and Quebec, said Sergio Karas, a Toronto-based lawyer and chair of the Ontario Bar Association’s citizenship and immigration section.

“People in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are making valiant efforts to reverse that trend but, let’s face it, the jobs are not there,” he said. “Immigrants are going to go wherever the jobs are and business immigrants are going to go wherever the money is.”

The Nova Scotia provincial nominee program’s (PNP’s) economic stream fast-tracked potential immigrants, who paid $130,000, to permanent resident status and promised them a minimum six-month mentorship with a local business, for which they would be paid a minimum of $20,000.

“It was designed to provide newcomers to the province with an opportunity to gain some exposure to the Canadian workplace,” said Mary Anna Jollymore, director of communications for the Nova Scotia office of immigration. The hope was they would then open their own business in the province, she added.

But with a softer economy, immigrants who came to Nova Scotia under the economic stream had a hard time finding mentorships with local businesses. Those who did find placements were often working well below their experience level.

“It wasn’t meeting the needs of many of the nominees who were coming through the program,” said Jollymore.

Of the $130,000 program fee, $100,000 went to the mentoring business and $30,000 went to administration fees, including a $20,000 immigration consultant fee.

PNPs in other provinces also have business or entrepreneurial streams, most of which require a minimum investment in a current or new business of up to $400,000 (usually with the requirement the immigrant own at least one-third of the company). Some provinces, such as Manitoba and Prince Edward Island, require the immigrant to make a good faith deposit with the provincial government, usually about $100,000, which the immigrant gets back when the business investment is made.

However, Nova Scotia’s economic stream differs because the immigrant doesn’t end up owning part of the company in which he has invested $100,000.

The economic stream program stopped accepting applicants on July 1, 2006. The unused mentorship fees are in a $75-million trust fund and last fall the government offered $100,000 refunds to participants who lived in Nova Scotia for 12 months but never found a mentorship. About 600 of the 800 participants qualified for the refund option.

However, about 75 immigrants who did find mentorships are petitioning the government for a refund of the difference between the $100,000 and what the mentorship paid. Some of these immigrants told the legislature’s public accounts committee last month they felt betrayed by the province because their experiences didn’t live up to the promise of the program.

A former department store manager from Tehran told the committee his boss at a fish company told him to stay home because there wasn’t any work for him. An Iranian psychiatrist spent his time at a construction company studying for Canadian medical tests.

Many immigrants who came to Canada under the program didn’t bother to stay in Nova Scotia and immigrants who found mentorships want the government to use the fees these immigrants forfeited for their refund.

There were, however, some success stories from the program. John Huang, a food exporter from China, had a year-long mentorship with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) in Halifax, during which time he worked on research projects to improve trade between Atlantic Canada and Asia.

“As a think-tank, we exist to draw new and innovative thinking to public policy ideas. By going outside of the country, you get a guaranteed different perspective on things,” said Charles Cirtwill, the acting president of AIMS, who added that Huang brought a valuable perspective on immigration and trade policy.

While working at AIMS, Huang also set up his own China-Canada import-export business in Halifax, and he became a member of the city’s chamber of commerce.

Where the program fell short, in Cirtwill’s opinion, was in matching immigrants with businesses. Despite having paid a $30,000 administrative fee, it was Huang, not Cornwallis Financial, the organization that administered the program, who found AIMS and convinced the institute to take him on, said Cirtwill.

“It was that matching piece that they were never able to fulfil the promise of,” he said.

Nova Scotia is redesigning the economic stream into an entrepreneurial stream that will more closely resemble that of other provinces, said Jollymore.

“We’re still aiming to attract the same kind of individuals who have an interest in setting up their own business down the road or have skills that would meet the needs of the local labour market,” she said.

While the majority of immigrants to Canada aren’t choosing to settle in Nova Scotia, there has been an increase in the number of immigrants coming to the province since 2001, said Jollymore.

The province had 1,474 total landings in 2003 and that increased to 2,585 in 2006. The province wants to reach 3,600 annual landings by 2010 and increase its retention rate from 40 per cent in 2001 to 70 per cent by 2010, she said.

“While it’s all well and good to bring people into the province, at the end of the day you want them staying here,” she said. “The targets are ambitious, but we’re on track.”

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