AMHERST – Companies are already seeing the benefits of a program designed to attract immigrants to fill important skilled positions in Atlantic Canada.
Speaking during an Amherst and Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Thursday, Val Bembridge of Gordon Food Service Canada said she was having a difficult time finding a driver in Halifax.
After striking out on many fronts, she turned to the Atlantic Immigration Pilot program and was able to attract a man from Montenegro, who quickly filled a skilled position the company could not fill.
“It can be overwhelming, but with the help of the people from the immigration program it was so much easier,” Bembridge told the breakfast meeting. “I’m very pleased the program is here because it does make things quicker to bring people over to fill these employment gaps we have.”
Bembridge said it was very intimidating at the start trying to fill the opening, but it became easier with assistance from the immigration program.
She said it’s an example of how her company has worked to improve the lives of its employees.
Nova Scotia’s immigration minister, Lena Diab, was in Amherst for the breakfast and added her support for the federal-provincial pilot project that helps employers in the four Atlantic provinces hire job candidates who aren’t Canadian citizens or permanent residents to fill jobs they have had trouble filling locally.
If the candidate and employer meet the requirements, the candidate gets permanent resident status in Canada.
“We’re on a tremendous journey,” the minister said. “This is an innovative program that’s part of the Atlantic Growth Strategy. One of the pillars of that is immigration. It was created specifically for Atlantic Canada to help businesses here fill persistent labour gaps.”
Diab said Nova Scotia is fortunate in that it already has a robust immigration system with a number of options available to employers and people who wish to immigrate to the province to live and work.
“Strengthening the provincial economy is a priority for the government of Nova Scotia and in order strengthen our economy we need to ensure businesses are set up for success and we have robust population growth,” the minister said. “Immigration is one way to achieve those goals.”
In the last two years, she said, Nova Scotia has welcomed approximately 10,000 newcomers, including permanent residents. That doesn’t include temporary foreign workers, those here on work permits or those in the province studying.
In 2017, just over 1,600 applicants were nominated through the provincial nomination program and the Atlantic Immigration Pilot. Several years ago, she said, the number was only 600.
“We have made great strides in the last few years. We have the highest number we have already nominated,” she said. “I am very pleased with the success and pleased that immigration is making a positive difference in Nova Scotia by making the population grow and revitalizing our communities.”
While attracting new residents is important, the minister said equally important is retaining them. She said between 2010 and 2017 Nova Scotia had a 71 per cent retention rate.
“It means you can have confidence that if your recruit a skilled worker from outside Canada, the odds are stronger that they will stay here and build a life here,” she said, adding not too many years ago the rate was only 48 per cent. “If look at the numbers you’d see it’s quite a difference. “
She said communities have a role to play in helping newcomers feel welcome and comfortable in their new homes. She said it’s important to get them involved in community life, find a job for the spouse and get the children involved in youth organizations.
Cumberland-Colchester MP Bill Casey said the immigration pilot is an opportunity for Atlantic Canada to do something different.
“This project is only available here and it allows employers to identify potential employees in other countries to come to Canada through a streamlined system,” Casey said. “It’s a great opportunity because we, as a region, have to increase our population and increase our diversity.”