Atlantic Canada Retains 90 Percent Of Immigrants Using Regional Pilot Program

Of the newcomers that came through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot since 2017, 90 percent have stayed in Atlantic Canada, according to a program evaluation report released by Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) earlier this month.

The report showed that as of December 2019, 5,590 people came to Atlantic Canada through the AIP, with 45 percent headed to New Brunswick, 34 percent to Nova Scotia, and 10 percent each to P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador. The bulk of them (73 percent) arrived in 2019.

As of February last year, only 10 percent of AIP newcomers have left the region, with Ontario being the most popular place to move for those who leave. But that 90 percent overall retention rate falls to 78 percent in the second year the newcomers live in the region.

Still, the retention rate for the program that was launched in 2017 is higher than that of the provincial nominee program (82 percent) and the provincial nominee express-entry program (82 percent). Both programs also see a decrease in the second year to 75 percent and 74 percent, respectively. IRCC has taken steps to make the AIP a permanent program since December 2019, according to the report.

Jennifer Watts, the CEO of Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, said programs like AIP strengthen immigrant attraction and retention efforts because it requires a job offer and a settlement plan. It also offers a faster pathway to gaining permanent residency.

“Really working with employers to support them, to identify the labor market needs they have, to identify and bring immigrants to meet those needs, and to have [AIP] as a pathway to permanent residency has been very important,” she said. “So when people come in, they’re actually coming because there’s definitely a labour market need. They’re attached to a job. There’s a good reason to come here and to stay.”

Ginette Gautreau, the interim executive director of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council, says as an employer-driven program like AIP “changes the way immigration takes place,” though it’s not the only thing that helps boost retention.

“It means that right away there’s a job that is lined up for the newcomer, and hopefully, in theory, there’s also a better match. So the job tends to match the newcomer’s skill set,” she explained.

“It also brings newcomers to different parts of New Brunswick, especially rural communities. Some of those communities have seen their population decline, and they really see immigration as a pathway to revival and to bring new, vibrant and dynamic energy in the communities.”

The AIP allows employers to identify their labour needs and actively seek out talent internationally, with support from government agencies. They can then work with settlement agencies, community groups and others to create a settlement plan for their incoming staff.

Since the employer has invested in bringing the employee to Canada, they have a stake in making sure their international recruits feel welcome and supported in the community, Gautreau said.

Groupe Savoie in St. Quentin, N.B., is one of the companies that rely on immigration to fill labour needs. Its VP of human resources, Nathalie Savoie, says about 10 percent of the hardwood products manufacturer’s 500 employees are immigrants.

“Immigration is very important and it’s going to be important for a long time. If we look at the statistics, we know what’s coming,” Savoie said.

Groupe Savoie expects to lose a third of its employees in the next 10 years to retirements. It has no choice but to rely on immigration and automation as New Brunswick’s aging population conundrum also means there are not enough young people locally to fill those jobs. Plus, many of them leave for university or college and don’t come back, Savoie said.

So far, Groupe Savoie only used the AIP for a few employees who were already in Canada and seeking permanent residency. One of them was an international student, others are temporary foreign workers.

Savoie says the company relies more on the PNP when it recruited abroad in Ukraine, Romania, Mexico, and Peru. Those recruited in Peru and Mexico are yet to arrive because of pandemic-related delays in immigration processing.

She said they tend to use the PNP because the criteria for education and language are lower than AIP. The jobs Groupe Savoie needs to fill are physically demanding jobs in its pallet plants and sawmill, but they don’t require a bachelor’s degree for example. She also said while it’s good for the newcomers that AIP provides a faster track to permanent residency, that could mean newcomers could choose to leave the job and region earlier.

“From an employer’s perspective it’s kind of scary, and you feel that you’re not going to have enough time to integrate those people in the community,” she said. “When you do immigration missions and all the paperwork and find an apartment for them and all of that work, you invest time and money. So it’s scary to feel that people might not stay, and it still might happen with other programs.”

Savoie said even with PNP, Groupe Savoie’s experience is that newcomers stay 12-18 months and then leave, mostly to Alberta and Nova Scotia. She said time to integrate is important because the first few months of the move is often tough, but the longer they stay, the more they become familiar with the community.

“Especially for us, we’re a small French town. Language barriers are there sometimes, depending on where the people are from. It’s not a big city and it’s far from any big city,” she said.

So while programs like AIP and PNP may help attract workers, and may make them stay in the region, they don’t necessarily retain them in the job, Savoie said. The best fits, she said, are generally people who are truly looking to live in a place like St. Quentin.

According to the report, most of the newcomers were employed in jobs that fell under National Occupation Classification (NOC) B (46 percent) and C (36 percent). That means they were working in technical jobs and skilled trades that usually need a college diploma or apprentice training, like chefs, plumbers and electricians; or intermediate jobs that usually require high school diploma and/or job-specific training, like long-haul truck drivers, servers, and industrial butchers. Gautreau says in New Brunswick, nursing homes also tend to use the program.

Holistic Approach Is Key

The report also highlighted 2017 retention numbers of overall permanent residents in Atlantic Canada. All four provinces see a decline in retention rates over 10 years.

In New Brunswick, 70.5 percent stayed after one year. That steadily decreases to 50.3 percent after three years, 47.5 percent after five years, and 45.1 percent after 10 years.

In Nova Scotia, 73 percent stayed after one year. That falls to 66.7 percent after three years, 66 percent after five years, and 53.9 percent after 10 years.

The average retention rate across Canada’s provinces and territories is 86.1 percent after 10 years.

Gautreau says there’s a number of reasons why people leave or stay. But both she and Watts say in addition to good employment, quality of life is important. During Covid-19, Atlantic Canada’s response made the region safer and attracted people.

“The sense of them feeling this is a great place to live, the beauty of the place, feeling their family can settle here and be safe, there are educational opportunities for my kids,” Watts said. “But also, I think we’ve seen affordability and the employment opportunities that are here as well.”

Both Watts and Gautreau say a holistic approach to settlement is key to improving retention rates. Community groups, settlement agencies, employers, all levels of government, the business community, universities and individuals all play important roles.

“It’s not just an organizational thing. It really involves everyone understanding how important it is for whatever reason – humanitarian, economic, social diversity; how important it is that we all take a role in understanding what we can contribute and also understanding the changes that we may need to make,” Watts said.

“It’s no longer simply the work of settlement agencies,” Gautreau said. “And the work of settlement agencies has become more complex to work with many stakeholders.”

“In almost every place of employment in the cities, like Moncton and Fredericton, now have newcomer clients, newcomer employees, newcomer stakeholders as part of the employment. So we all have a stake in this,” she added.

Employers need to ensure their new recruits feel welcomed and included, municipalities have to plan for their housing and other infrastructure to be ready to receive the influx of newcomers, and communities have to be ready to accept a growing diversity.

RELATED: Survey Aims To Uncover Experiences Of Racism In New Brunswick

“We hear more and more about the importance of working with employers around culture and cultural competency because it’s not just the people coming in offering their talents and skills, as incredible as that is. But it’s about adapting and understanding that we’re all in this together,” Watts said. “It’s the evolution of becoming a more welcoming and diverse place, and really embracing the new ideas and opportunities that people bring.”

Additionally, it’s not enough to focus on just the principal applicant or the person who got the Canadian job. Settlement agencies, they say, have been focusing as much on the spouses and children as well. They too need to feel welcome and settled to make the principal applicant want to stay, said Watts.

Gautreau agrees, saying there’s a need in New Brunswick for better support for spouses and older children of the principal applicant to access language classes and jobs. The lack of affordable and adequate housing is also an issue, she said.

Spouses and teenage children of Groupe Savoie’s employees find it harder to integrate, Savoie said. Jobs are scarce for them, and when they do want to practice their craft, like nursing for example, the credential recognition process is complicated, long, and expensive. It might even require them to return to school, which can be inaccessible from smaller towns like St. Quentin. Savoie said if that process is made easier, maybe retention could grow.

There are also not enough apartments available in town, but it could be difficult for developers to build housing when there’s so much uncertainty as to when and how many people will come, how much they’re willing to pay, and how long they’ll stay, Savoie said.

Gautreau adds addressing racism and discrimination, and fostering inclusion and representation would also help make people stay. NBMC recently conducted a survey on the racism experienced by residents of New Brunswick, with the results set to be out soon.

“It’s the sentiment of being truly welcome, truly included, be able to fully participate in society,” she said.

When people feel connected and like they belong, they start to attract other families and friends. Watts said she saw that happen with some of the Syrian refugees that came in 2015 who want to bring in their families and friends. “Family reunification is really important,” she said.

The humanitarian response and commitment shown are also important for them.

“I think that connection when people are coming in as refugees, strong response and care and attention that people have to helping people settle here is also really important for supporting those retention numbers,” Watts added.

As immigration becomes more common in the region and the support systems are better prepared, Gautreau is optimistic retention could be increased if those challenges are addressed.

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