Late last month, federal immigration minister Marco Mendicino announced an increase of about 50,000 permanent residents per year to the country’s immigration plan – which now calls for about 1.2 million new permanent residents over the next three years. To be sure, this is a bold target, but one that is worth striving to achieve and we must welcome and retain our share in New Brunswick.
The need for population growth through immigration is one of those rare issues where there is broad agreement throughout governments and stakeholder groups in Canada and beyond. That means it is one of the federal government’s top priorities, but it also means New Brunswick is competing with every other province to attract and retain newcomers.
It’s not an easy road and there are critical challenges – the job market, availability of housing, access to primary health care, language barriers, and community integration to name a few – none of these are insurmountable, but it will take focus and a sustained effort. It is also worth noting that most of these issues are not unique to the newcomer population nor to our jurisdiction.
The breakdown of the new federal targets is also meaningful to the province. Of the 401,000 targeted for 2021, 232,000 are designated “economic class” and 103,500 to the “family class.” The former group is critical for obvious reasons – a mix of both job-creating entrepreneurs and a boost to the workforce – but the family class and family reunification programs are important tools to enhance our retention efforts. Simply put – newcomers are more likely to stay for the long-term when they are with their families, making deeper roots, and enhancing quality of life.
Federally, our advocacy efforts have received support from chambers across Canada through the Canadian Chamber of Commerce policy resolution process. Currently, the national chamber is advocating on our behalf for changes to policy involving international students, including allowing them to qualify for the Canada Summer Jobs program; participate in voluntary co-op terms and internships without obtaining a separate work permit; and count all time spent in Canada as an international student towards citizenship eligibility (i.e., increase from half time to full time). We also have another resolution that targets enhancements (aimed at speeding up the process) to the Startup Visa program.
At the provincial level, the cabinet shuffle in September put immigration and economic development under the stewardship of Minister Dunn. There is strong synergy and logic to this move as there is a direct relationship between population growth and economic growth – and it is important that both continue to receive the attention they deserve.
When entrepreneurs come to New Brunswick under the Provincial Nominee Program, they must provide a deposit to the provincial government of $125,000 – which is returned after they meet certain criteria. Under the current system, if the milestones are not met, the deposit is forfeited and placed into the government’s general revenue fund.
One of the issues that newcomer entrepreneurs have with the current system is that the provincial government can be perceived to be inflexible in the interpretation of the implementation of their business plans, which can lead to the denial of their deposit refund claims. This is exacerbated by the feeling that they have no recourse in this situation and many have come to us seeking our support in reaching out to officials to advocate for the acceptance of their claims and subsequent refund.
An idea we hope Minister Dunn implements is one that we submitted to Finance Minister Steeves last year in our pre-budget brief. We recommended creating an “immigration ombud” position within government that would have the authority to advocate for newcomers on issues such as refund claims as well as policies that might be barriers to newcomer success, and proposed regulatory or policy changes that impact newcomers.
If a deposit is ultimately forfeited, a better use of this money would be to pool it and pump it back into our attraction and retention efforts – either through programming, support services or even a public campaign. This last piece is important because government is only part of the solution. They can set policy, provide supports and increase targets – but retaining more newcomers must be a whole-of-New Brunswick effort to welcome, settle and incorporate newcomers into daily life. In short – the general public needs to be on board.
As a foundation, newcomers must feel welcomed here. Imagine how daunting it would be to move to a new country without any prior connections. Every effort we can make – big or small – can have an impact to make this transition easier for them. For one thing, I’d like us to stop seeing immigrants as “newcomers” – they are New Brunswickers who are part of our communities, own local businesses, pay taxes, send their kids to school and otherwise participate in society and enjoy our way of life. And without more of them choosing to stay here, that way of life is in question.
Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, a nationally accredited organization with more than 1,000 members, is an active business organization engaged in policy development and advocacy that affects the competitiveness of our members and the Canadian business environment. The Chamber’s vision is ‘Stronger Community Through Business Prosperity’