Lawrence MacAulay

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EDITORIAL: Atlantic Immigration Pilot offers new hope

The Guardian Published on February 16, 2017

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The Atlantic Immigration Pilot kicks into high gear next month, and by all accounts, the program will be successful for both employers and employees on Prince Edward Island.

The pilot, announced last summer in federal agriculture minister Lawrence MacAulay’s Midgell barn, attracted the four Atlantic premiers and half a dozen federal cabinet ministers. An update was provided last week for employers as the pilot starts in earnest in early March.

Ottawa is partnering with the Atlantic provinces on this growth strategy. The key component is a three-year immigration pilot to bring 2,000 skilled new immigrants and international student graduates to the region each year. P.E.I. will get 120 a year – on a per capital basis – and now has the green light to approve additional new immigrants. That number could rise in following years depending on how well the project performs.

That’s just part of the good news. Unlike the current Temporary Foreign Workers Program, the pilot also involves the families of these new workers, which could push total numbers to over 300 or more a year.

The program hopes to make it easier to attract and keep skilled immigrants by offering permanent residency and priority processing. Immigration is the reason why P.E.I. was the only Atlantic province to see an increase in population over the past several years. It helped boost economic growth for the province and stabilized our population base left vulnerable by growing numbers of seniors and the relentless departure of young Islanders for Ontario and Western Canada.

There is a harsh reality facing the P.E.I. job market. Despite a nagging high unemployment rate of over 11 per cent, many businesses cannot find enough people to fill certain job vacancies, leaving Island companies dependent on the temporary foreign workers program to fill labour gaps.

This new Atlantic strategy is better suited for employers’ needs. Temporary foreign workers have been a success to a point but it’s a stop-gap measure. Workers arrive for six months and then must return home. If employers recruit immigrants who can arrive with their families, work at a job they are trained for and see their citizenship fast-tracked, there is a good chance they will stay here on a permanent basis.

The new pilot program is more responsive, cuts delays by half and fills immediate labour gaps. There are other positives. It is employer-driven. Businesses will identify their own needs and recruit accordingly. Immigrants and their families can be eligible for permanent residency status as little as six months.

Atlantic premiers believe that success with this immigration pilot will improve chances of repatriating Atlantic Canadians. By growing our population with skilled new immigrants, and boosting economic growth, it will create more opportunities that would be attractive to ex-pats.

The chances for the pilot’s success are good. It’s a solution created for Atlantic needs. As Premier Wade MacLauchlan has often said, Prince Edward Island must grow its workforce and continue to foster an environment of innovation and entrepreneurship.

This pilot seems like an ideal way to accomplish those goals.