Ottawa may increase quotas for Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program

By Andrea Gunn. From The Chronicle Herald, July 9, 2018

Number of N.S. employers involved in the program ‘has doubled’

Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said he is considering increasing the allocation for the Atlantic Immigration Pilot program.

Despite an initially slow uptake, Hussen told The Chronicle Herald that interest in the program has been so high that provinces are well on the way to meeting their allocations at the year’s halfway point, prompting him to consider a bump in quotas.

“The number of employers who are participating in the program in Nova Scotia has doubled (this year),” Hussen said. “There may be an announcement coming soon to increase the allocation for Atlantic Canada.”

The Atlantic Immigration Pilot was announced in July 2016 as part of the Atlantic Growth Strategy, and officially launched in March 2017. The program initially aimed for up to 2,000 additional primary immigrant applicants and their families in 2017, and last fall the federal government confirmed that the program would continue and double to an allocation of 4,000 by 2020.

The target for the entire Atlantic region for 2018 is 2,000, and to date more than 1,800 graduates and skilled immigrants have been provincially endorsed to participate in the pilot, Hussen’s office confirmed.

According to the provincial Department of Immigration, as of July 9, 430 candidates out of Nova Scotia’s allocation of 792 have been endorsed so far this year, compared to 201 candidates in 2017.

There was concern early in the program that Nova Scotia wasn’t taking advantage of the extra immigration quota — something the province has long fought for — but the numbers have been growing as word has gotten out to employers. The program has been slated as a faster route to permanent residency, and ultimately citizenship, for those with standing job offers.

“When concern about the uptake was brought to us last year, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada dedicated additional officers to just work on that and ACOA dedicated seven more. So (we have) a total of 12-13 people who are responsible to directly answer phone calls and emails and letters from employers who are either in the AIPP or interested in it and helping them navigate through the system,” Hussen said.

One thing is clear, there’s no shortage of jobs for prospective immigrants in Nova Scotia, something Hussen heard on Monday in Halifax as he participated in a roundtable with the topic of why immigration matters.

“There was a very clear message from employers that they just need more workers. That even with the extra numbers we have been able to provide through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, that’s not enough, they need more, way more, and that the shortages of workers is real,” Hussen said.

Aside from increasing quotas, Hussen said he heard from stakeholders other ways the federal government can help make the immigration process smoother, such as taking advantage of new technologies to streamline some of the red tape.

“We are looking at deploying more digital options and employing technology and looking at how we can utilize that to streamline processes,” he said.

“We’ve done a lot in terms of client services — we’ve reduced processing times, we’ve eliminated a lot of backlogs but we need to do more of that and technology will certainly play a role. I think as a federal government we can do that and we are looking into that.”

Hussen said the discussion also touched on the shortage of nurses, long-term care providers, and doctors, and ways the federal government can help attract more medical professionals to the province.

Nabiha Atallah, manager of communications and research with Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, was at the roundtable on Monday and said the conversation was constructive.

She said ongoing communication with communities and the general public is one way the federal government can help improve the immigration experience.

While organizations like ISANS can play a role in communication as well, Atallah said their audience is different than the federal government’s.

“The government giving positive messages about the benefits of immigration can be very powerful. We found when the Syrian (refugees) came the government was very clear about the purpose of that. It was very effective.”

No one from the provincial Department of Immigration was present at Monday’s meeting, but spokeswoman Lynette Macleod said officials “look forward to hearing about the conversations that were had” and continuing to work closely with the federal government, community leaders and other stakeholders.”

Hussen was to be in Summerside, P.E.I., Tuesday, along with the rest of the Atlantic leadership committee, which includes all the Atlantic premiers, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains, Treasury Board President Scott Brison, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay, and Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan. They will be talking about the progress of the Atlantic Growth Strategy, of which the AIP is an important part.