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Four Recommendations to Boost Immigration to Atlantic Canada

Sep 25, 2017
Kareem El-Assal Kareem El-Assal
Senior Research Associate and
Senior Network Manager, Immigration
Sam Goucher Sam Goucher
Provincial Economist,
Economics Division

The Atlantic region is the only part of Canada where the death rate exceeds the birth rate. That, combined with the region’s high rate of out-migration, means that Atlantic Canada needs to identify ways to boost its population to support a healthy economic future. Immigration is one part of the solution.

Our new report, Immigration to Atlantic Canada: Toward a Prosperous Future, offers insights on immigration to Atlantic Canada. It highlights the need for immigration in the region; Atlantic Canada’s immigration trends, strengths, and challenges; and recommendations to improve four areas that can help attract and retain more immigrants.

Atlantic Canada’s Immigration Trends and Issues

The Atlantic region has the smallest immigrant population and fewest number of newcomer arrivals among Canada’s provinces. But immigration to the region is on the rise, particularly in its largest cities, where 80 per cent of newcomers to Atlantic Canada settle. In 2016, the Atlantic provinces welcomed 13,665 immigrants—nearly five times the number that arrived in 1999. And immigration is poised to rise even further, thanks to the March 2017 launch of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot.

As stakeholders look to boost immigration in the region, it is incumbent on them to understand Atlantic Canada’s immigration strengths and challenges. Some of the region’s largest cities have strong economies and significant immigrant populations. Moreover, the region’s immigrant unemployment rates and wage gaps (compared with Canadian-born workers) are low, wages are nationally competitive, and immigrant “stayers” tend to earn more than “leavers.” But one probable reason to leave the region is the inability of immigrants and/or their spouses to find work that aligns with their skill sets.

A significant disadvantage for immigration to the region is that its communities are small and widely spread. This may create a less appealing social environment for newcomers. Anecdotally, perceived challenges include the region’s residents not being as welcoming to newcomers as they could be and the province selecting immigrants that are unlikely to remain in Atlantic Canada.

Four Areas of Improvement

Our four recommendations are as follows:

  • Raise public and employer awareness about immigration’s benefits to Atlantic Canada;
  • Promote life in Atlantic Canada to prospective immigrants to highlight why they should settle in the region rather than in other parts of the country;
  • Attract immigrants who are most likely to stay in Atlantic Canada;
  • Prioritize addressing the challenges of temporary residents and remove barriers to their transition to permanent residence.

The Atlantic provinces would benefit from raising the public’s and employers’ intercultural awareness and understanding of immigration’s value. According to some of our report’s interviewees, a segment of the region’s population is apprehensive about immigration, while employers lack experience in effectively integrating immigrants into the workplace.

Doing more to promote the Atlantic provinces to prospective immigrants will help to raise the region’s profile, create more awareness about the benefits of living in Atlantic Canada, and dispel common myths, such as the notion that Atlantic Canada’s economy has fewer opportunities.

By drawing on their growing immigration experiences, the Atlantic provinces can tailor their approach to immigrant selection to draw those most likely to remain in the region. This can be done by selecting a balance of high- and semi-skilled immigrants, leveraging communities and families, focusing on specific source countries, and establishing retention benchmarks to measure success.

Finally, there is a broad consensus that the Atlantic provinces should provide more pathways to permanent residence for international students and foreign workers. To improve such efforts, the Atlantic provinces need to help international students find permanent employment in their fields upon graduation. The provinces should also look to improve access to settlement services for international students and foreign workers.

Read the report!

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