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The Winkler Initiative: Lessons in Immigrant Attraction to Rural Areas, Part 2

Why does it work …. and can it be replicated in other communities?

Winkler City of MBWinkler01The previous blog post described the “Winkler Initiative” and its origins. Today’s post focuses on why it worked, and whether it could be replicated in other communities.

In a 2005 Working Paper on the Winkler Initiative [pdf] the authors state:

“Winkler serves as an encouraging example of what may be achieved in a rural immigration initiative when there exists close collaboration between business, city officials and Manitoba Labour and Immigration…. Due to the area’s predominant religious, cultural, linguistic and economic elements, it remains appropriate to ask how this particular experience may or may not be reproduced elsewhere in the province.” (p.5-6)

They go on to note:

“A widening of the immigration process should affect more of the surrounding region and provide more lessons still. The Winkler example stresses the importance for stakeholder preparation, interaction and co-operation, as well as appropriate supports and services for the immigrant population. (p6)”

Winkler’s Network of Supports

The previous blog post mentioned the growth in local school age populations with the arrival of so many new immigrants. Schools are always an important receiving point for newcomers. In addition, Winkler put in place a number of other essential supports, sometimes staffed by volunteers:

  • Settlement Services
  • English language classes offered on site in several communities throughout the region.
  • Health: The immigrant population has been identified in the planning of new and enhanced health care services, though there is a lag in funding to address these needs according to the 2005 Working Paper cited above (p. 4). Some immigrants have been employed in local health care delivery.
  • Employer/Employment: A buoyant economy facilitates immigration, and support and cooperation from the business community has helped immigrants to find jobs quickly, even before arrival in some cases.
  • Informal social supports: The Mennonite Central Committee and Church Elders have assisted with settlement of Mennonite immigrants (some of whom were actually return migrants), offering support, assistance and incentive for greater numbers arriving in the region.

On a visit to Winkler in September 2013, then Immigration Minister Chris Alexander praised local settlement agency Regional Connections, noting the great atmosphere and true professionalism among the staff and volunteers.

“It’s the community engagement,” Alexander said, “The really striking characteristic of the settlement services you have here is what a strong economy stands behind them,” Alexander said. “That is… the foundation stone of a successful immigration program.”

An Insider’s View of Key Success Factors

Winkler Canadiana IMG00623-20110828-0804Mayor of Winkler Martin Harder outlined several key factors in immigrant attraction to smaller communities:

  • Cultural acceptance
  • Immigrants being able to use their employable skills – avoid underemployment
  • Receiving community knowing its needs and targeting its audience

Harder thinks that many immigrants prefer a rural lifestyle. He said that they want to get away from “big city life” but need to know that there are jobs, opportunities, and services in small communities before they are willing to relocate. Harder believes that if the above factors are followed, immigrants will remain in the town, and they will support it.

An Outsider’s View of Key Success Factors

Authors of the Working Paper identify a number of factors as important to Winkler’s success:

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  • Personal linkages and word of mouth – through family, friends and/or a church community – facilitate immigration, settlement and retention, supplemented by conveyance of accurate information.
  • Make immigrant families aware of the existing continuum of services and settlement agencies and provide linkages to these, regardless of the supports an immigrant utilized in arriving. Each immigrant brings a complex and diverse set of needs and challenges, even in the cases where there exist elements of linguistic, cultural and religious continuity.
  • Make all efforts to contact and welcome immigrants. This is beneficial to both the new arrival and community at large.
  • A broader immigration strategy to address what are felt to be specific needs may be required. For example, business development has resulted from the influx of skilled workers, who develop contacts, knowledge, resources and networks of support after arrival that foster entrepreneurship. Economic development personnel can help by giving as much information and support as possible to immigrants who wish to start businesses. (excerpted from p. 6)

Sarah V Wayland

Sarah Wayland, Principal Investigator

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