Feds try enticing immigrants to rural, northern communities with new program
Author: Marco Vigliotti
In an effort to boost economic growth in rural and northern Canada, the federal government has launched a pilot program to attract immigrants to small, remote communities.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) on Thursday announced the start of the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP), giving interested communities until March 1 to submit applications.
The goal of the program is to leverage public and private resources to spur growth in smaller centres in Ontario, Western Canada and the territories. They must partner with local economic-development organizations to submit an application, which must demonstrate how they meet the eligibility criteria and how immigration will support growth and development.
“The economic and social benefits of immigration are apparent in communities across Canada,” Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said in a statement.
“By creating an immigration pilot aimed at rural and northern communities, we’re looking to ensure that the benefits of immigration are shared across the country.”
Minister Hussen’s office told iPolitics it would wait until spring to determine how many communities can qualify, which is also when it will announce the winning applicants
The program is the successor of a similar project in Atlantic Canada launched two years ago, which allowed the four provinces in the region to nominate up to 2,500 workers in 2018 to meet labour needs. The new pilot program can nominate up to 2,750 workers each year, according to the minister’s office.
Applicants under the RNIP must have fewer than 50,000 residents and be located at least 75 kilometres from the centre of a city that has a minimum population of 100,000, with at least 50,000 people living in the core. Applicants considered remote from large cities can still apply, as long as they have a population of 200,000 or fewer.
The Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants (CAPIC) says it has lobbied Ottawa for several years to increase immigration in rural communities to help replace retiring entrepreneurs and young people leaving for work and education in larger cities.
CEO Dory Jade said smaller communities across Canada have reached out to CAPIC members for help developing their own programs to attract and support immigrants, as they look to bolster economic development. CAPIC has also held meetings with federal officials over the years to discuss ways to support immigration in these rural and remote regions, he said.
Jade said CAPIC is “very supportive” of the government’s pilot project, provided it leads to the development of “appropriate” immigration recruitment programs tailored to the needs of individual communities. He identified two specific commercial needs for more immigration in rural communities: large industrial operations such as meat-processing plants and fishery operations, and small entrepreneurs who want to retire and sell their businesses but have trouble attracting buyers.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which represents over 450 local business-advocacy groups, also voiced support for the project, saying Ottawa struck the right balance by empowering communities to determine their own immigration needs.
“When programs before have looked at sectors, they looked at high skills. … The beauty of this (is it asks): What is in our community? And what does it need?” said Leah Nord, the Chamber’s director of skills and immigration policy.
She said the only thing missing in the pilot is a broader “catchment area” than the 75 kilometres the project stipulates an applicant must be from a metropolitan area.
As part of the RNIP, communities from all provinces and territories can apply, except for the four Atlantic provinces and Quebec. Under an agreement with the federal government, Quebec has the authority to decide which economic permanent residents to admit.
Applicants must also have job opportunities, an economic development plan, a local economic-development organization capable of managing the pilot, “relationships” with local or regional organizations that serve immigrants, and mentoring and networking programs to connect newcomers with established community members, according to IRCC.
They should also have access to education, housing, transportation and health care, and must have letters of support from local leaders and an “immigrant-serving organization” in the area.