With New Brunswick moving to Phase 2 on the province’s “Path to Green” this week and vaccination progress being made throughout much of the world, it’s time to refocus on some of our pre-pandemic priorities – the most important of which is growing our population. The province has many issues to be addressed, but improving our demographic situation at least partially addresses many of them.
Demographically, newcomers are typically younger, often with families and have a significant positive economic impact on our communities. They start businesses, create jobs, fill vacant positions and bring expertise – increasing the creation of net new businesses and jobs in the city, expanding the tax base for all levels of government, unlocking wealth creation, and making our community more prosperous. But the economic impact is only part of the story. Immigrants also bring social diversity, global perspectives and are active volunteers in our communities. According to the most recent Census data (2016), 6,445 immigrants live in the city of Fredericton, comprising 11 per cent of the population; 4.3 per cent of the total population (2,505 people) are recent immigrants who arrived since 2016.1
The pandemic and related Public Health restrictions have hampered our immigration efforts on multiple fronts. Most obviously, travel and border restrictions limited new immigration to Canada as a whole, with the country receiving 184,000 newcomers in 2020 – down from 341,000 in 2019.2 Similarly, New Brunswick welcomed 2,890 immigrants, less than half of the 6,000 in 2019.3 The Atlantic Provinces also saw fewer newcomers relative to the rest of the country, down from 5.2 to 4.7%.
The attraction numbers are down, but the pandemic has also limited our ability to actively welcome and support immigrants through retention efforts. Certainly, organizations such as Immigration Fredericton and the Multicultural Association of Fredericton have done tremendous work given the limitations, but we’ve been without that ability to provide whole-of-community support that is critical to making our city a location of choice in Canada.
The pandemic also made clear that we have more work to do as residents regarding our own mindsets, as I heard from newcomer entrepreneurs over the past year and a half that they feel as though many people do not see them as part of the “local” business community in the same way as those business owners with whom we have built relationships over the years. Of course, we all have existing relationship with certain businesses and people, but we must also recognize that newcomer businesses provide the same benefits as any other and if we want our community to sustainably grow, we need to be inclusive and help support and celebrate individuals that have chosen to invest in our community when they could have gone anywhere. While any new business has to work to be competitive and become a preferred option, the barriers and obstacles for newcomers are greater and often the stakes are much higher – sometimes they have moved across the world and risked everything.
Fredericton’s community and stakeholder groups have intentionally and collaboratively worked closely together to attract, welcome and settle newcomers for more than a decade, culminating with the launch of the City of Fredericton’s five-year immigration strategy in 2019. As part of that strategy the Fredericton chamber coordinates the Immigration Advocacy Committee to bring concerns and ideas that can support newcomers to government. Some of the current efforts of this committee at the provincial level include:
- Calling on the government to create an “Immigration Ombud” position that can act as an advocate on policy issues and for newcomers trying to navigate the system.
- Working with government to review recent changes to the business stream of the Provincial Nominee Program.
- Advocating for permanent residents to be granted municipal voting rights.
- Expanding family reunification programs.
At the federal level, we are advocating that the government provide resources to speed up the Startup Visa program. We are also focused on attracting and retaining more international students and encourage the government to allow them to:
- Qualify for the Canada Summer Jobs program and the Student Work Placement Program
- Participate in voluntary co-op terms and internships without obtaining a separate work permit
- Count all time spent in Canada as an international student towards citizenship eligibility
- Work more than 20 hours per week off-campus
There’s clearly work to do – by both government and individuals, but it is necessary and rewarding work. Newcomers enhance the quality of life and improve our communities in so many ways, not just economically. Attracting and retaining more newcomers and working towards our provincial targets must be a collective top priority coming out the other side of the pandemic. If we don’t – any other efforts to become a sustainable and self-sufficient province will be for naught.
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’.