In the May 2015 report “Immigration Settlement Services and Gaps in Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Western Region,” by the Rural Development Institute at Brandon University, research focused on 29 rural communities and smaller urban centres across the four western provinces. (The summary report, full regional report, provincial reports, and community reports can all be accessed from this page on the Rural Development Institute website.)
“In general, small communities in the Western provinces face the same kinds of challenges as those in Ontario: how to provide quality services to a very heterogeneous population of immigrants who are often scattered across large geographic areas. When the conditions are right, immigrants actually integrate faster than in urban areas.”
In today’s post, I outline what I view as some of the key implications from this report for rural communities in Ontario and for our province as a whole.
The report on Canada’s Western Region demonstrates the importance of provincial nominee programs (PNPs) to rural communities in Western Canada. In some cases, the nominees originally arrive as temporary foreign workers in labour-starved communities. In turn, nominees can kick-start chain migration to rural communities through subsequent sponsorship of family members.
In Western Canada, some small and rural communities have been able to attract and retain immigrants over the past decade by connecting them directly to employment opportunities and offering basic services and supports to keep them in town.
To attract immigrants, Ontario needs to increase its allotment of provincial nominees. According to Ontario’s PNP website Opportunities Ontario, Ontario’s allocation for 2015 has been set at 5,200. Ontario’s nomination targets are capped by CIC, and this target includes nominations for both PNP and Express Entry. This figure is up from 2,500 nominations in 2014 and 1,300 in 2013, but it is still quite low and the targets were easily met before the end of each year. In contrast, the much smaller province of Saskatchewan welcomed 8,182 provincial nominees in 2013 alone.
Ontario was late to join the “nominee bandwagon” and has been trying to catch up in recent years. Ontario continues to be the top province of destination for immigrants to Canada, but it is losing ground to the Western provinces. Moreover, rural communities in Ontario are unable to attract very many immigrants at all. Implementing a more robust PNP program would be a game changer for smaller communities in Ontario, particularly those with a large employer who would benefit from better access to the immigrant talent pool.
Community partnerships were found to be a very important part of service delivery to immigrants in the geographic regions covered. (See pages 23-24 of the Regional Report.) More than 75% of the participants reported working in partnership. The most common partners were other service provider organizations, school/school boards, libraries, and housing services. Partnerships with francophone organizations, the police force, and ethno-cultural groups were cited rarely.
Research participants from all provinces expressed the desire for more private sector partnerships and involvement, particularly with local businesses and employers.
Smaller communities in Ontario also benefit from partnerships, and should strive to create and maintain them across sectors as well as across regions wherever possible. Local Immigration Partnerships (LIP’s) cover most areas of the province, and these locally-driven initiatives should be supported and maintained in order to create welcoming communities and share best practices.
In brief, smaller cities and rural communities across Canada face similar challenges in terms of attracting and retaining newcomers.
The Western provinces have been much better positioned than Ontario to use provincial nominee programs to boost immigration levels. Ontario should continue working to increase its own PNP targets allocated by CIC.
Ontario, on the other hand, was the first province to acquire local immigration partnerships, and now these are being created in many Western regions. Certainly, LIP’s are not the only form of local partnership but in their short lifespan they have proven to be effective. Continued support for LIP’s in Ontario makes good sense, as does the creation of similar models in other provinces.
Sarah Wayland, Principal Investigator