More newcomers are headed to Pictou County under the federal Atlantic Immigration Pilot as local employers sign up new hires.
Speaking in Halifax Thursday, Suzanne Ley from the Office of Immigration said that 44 per cent of employers authorized to recruit non-Canadians under the pilot are based outside Halifax.
By contrast, 80 per cent of immigrants who landed in Nova Scotia under other streams such as the provincial nominee program settled in Halifax, a trend that could lessen as more rural employers attract new arrivals.
“We know there are a number of employers in Pictou [County] that are designated – I don’t have the exact number – and we’re working with organizations there to help promote the opportunity and make sure that folks know that the pilot and the other immigration options can help them,” said Ley, who is the OI’s executive director, after a standing committee meeting.
Across the province, 279 employers are designated under the pilot and 201 of them have approved job offers from applicants.
In-demand jobs in Pictou County include nurses, doctors, fisheries and the hospitality and service sector.
Nova Scotia was granted 792 slots out of 2,000 available for immigrants in the four Atlantic Provinces under the pilot last year, according to Ley.
This year’s immigration pilot quota has not yet been released.
The pilot offers fast-track permanent residency to foreign workers with a job offer from a designated employer. It is also easier for immigrants to bring their families to Canada, increasing the likelihood that newcomers stay in the Atlantic region.
While its numbers remain low, Ley said the province was discussing the opportunities of the pilot with employers, who are in regular contact with the Office of Immigration.
“It takes time in immigration for programs to fully come up to speed. For instance, the federal skilled trade program had nationally 100 applications in the first year, but by year three they had 3,500,” said Ley.
Overall, the number of immigrants choosing Nova Scotia is growing. Last year the province supported 1,652 people to resettle in the province, the highest ever, according to Ley.
“We are ready to help newcomers settle in Nova Scotia in any way that we can,” said Ley.
In Pictou County, newcomers benefit from a local community-led newcomer program at New Glasgow’s library.
Immigrants can also take English language courses through the Multicultural Association of Pictou County and the YMCA’s Recognizing Enhancing Aligning Community Horizons program.
However, MLAs at Thursday’s standing committee meeting raised a number of issues facing newcomers in Nova Scotia.
The NDP’s Lenore Zann said that new immigrants spend 40 per cent of their salaries on housing and many work minimum-wage jobs.
Ley replied that employers can be asked to help new hires find affordable housing, but the final decision to accept a place is up to immigrants themselves.
Another issue is the recognition of foreign qualifications. The case of an experienced Pakistani engineer unable to find work after sending out 100 job applications was also mentioned.
Nonetheless, Canada’s welcoming reputation and high quality of life is a powerful draw for people overseas, some with whom the province has met on trips abroad.
“The power of the Canadian brand at the moment cannot be underestimated,” said Ley.