Atlantic Canada has enjoyed considerable success attracting skilled immigrants and foreign students to our shores. But, as Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen noted in Moncton this week, the problem is retention. They come here and they don’t stay.
The numbers support that assessment. Weaker than expected results from a recent immigration initiative suggests the region has a lot of work to do.
The Atlantic Immigration Pilot Project (AIPP) got off to a slow start last year with final numbers below expectations. The pilot sought to connect immigrants with companies seeking specific employees. It hoped to bring and retain up to 2,000 additional immigrant applicants and their families to the region in 2017, with increased numbers in following years if the program performs well. It was announced recently that AIPP would continue and double to a yearly allocation of 4,000 by 2020.
Prince Edward Island filled its 2017 AIPP quota, continuing the province’s recent successes in retaining immigrants. New Brunswick reached about three-quarters of its target, while Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia found about 25 per cent of the workers needed to fill specific jobs. AIPP obviously encountered some growing pains but has wide support and potential for growth.
A program targeting foreign students to stay here after graduation got a lot of attention this week. At the Moncton conference, it was announced that a program already in place to help international students to stay and work in Nova Scotia is expanding into the other three Atlantic provinces.
Hussen noted that Atlantic Canada has a retention rate for skilled immigrants of around 60 per cent, compared to rates of 90 per cent or higher in Ontario and Alberta. To improve that imbalance, Hussen announced a region-wide extension of Nova Scotia’s “Study and Stay,” as a compliment to AIPP.
Targeting foreign students makes a lot of sense. In recent years, the numbers of internationals at Atlantic universities has surged as institutions aggressively recruited outside the country to replace declining numbers of Canadian students. In many universities, foreign students account for more than 20 per cent of the student population.
Study and Stay provides supports for up to 50 international students during their final year of post-secondary studies. The program includes career mentoring and access to employment options. There is also a subsidy to help local employers offset the cost of hiring students for a work-term after they graduate.
The N.S. program will now be adapted to meet the specific needs of other Atlantic provinces. As P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan noted, it’s essential for all Atlantic provinces to focus on measures that will increase their populations, which in turn would help their economies to grow. It’s common for immigration programs to experience low uptake numbers in year one, and it can often take several years to fully ramp up.
The foreign student program offers lots of potential for Atlantic Canada. It might start off slowly, but the rewards are well worth the investment.