ARICHAT: Officials with programs to encourage more newcomers to settle in Cape Breton told council that immigration will help turn-around the island’s economy.
The Cape Breton Partnership’s Omar Tag El Din, program lead for the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, told council that Cape Breton loses 800 people between the ages of 15 and 54 from its labour force every year.
“We always have people leaving, we have no retention,” Tag told councillors.
Immigrants are more likely to start a business, export to countries other than the U.S. and are commonly healthy professionals who contribute to the local tax base, Tag said, noting that Cape Breton’s Local Immigration Partnership wants to improve the integration of newcomers, help communities to be more welcoming and facilitate planning for newcomers.
The benefits of the immigration pilot program, according to Tag, include a focus on bringing highly-skilled workers to Cape Breton, broadening the range of jobs for immigrants, and facilitating the retention and settlement of workers. He said the program can provide priority processing of citizenship claims and allow candidates to obtain employment to apply for residency.
Tag requested the municipality strike a committee to champion immigration.
District 2 councillor Alvin Martell noted that some immigrants do not have the education and skills needed to participate in the workforce. He asked the immigration officials how this problem can be eliminated.
“We’re low on physician recruitment and health service providers, and what happens when we bring people in is that they’re qualifications don’t suit the standards of Nova Scotia,” Martell noted.
Tag responded that they are making sure candidates meet qualifications before they arrive in Canada.
Elva Zhou, coordinator of the Connect Program said her task is to let immigrants know what opportunities are available in Cape Breton and let employers know who is available and what skills they possess, with the ultimate goal of helping immigrants find long-term employment.
Since June, Zhou told council the program had 21 job matches and nine immigrants have found jobs.
“We want to support [newcomers] and keep them on the island,” Zhou said on November 27.
In addition to striking an immigration committee, Zhou requested the municipality increase awareness of the program by identifying those seeking work and finding employers with labour needs.
Speaking about the Provincial Nominee Program was Erica Shea, vice-president of development with New Dawn Enterprises.
Shea said immigration fuels economic growth, as proof, she pointed out that the advancement of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in all sectors takes place most dramatically as a result of immigration.
“There’s a very, very strong link between immigration and economic development,” Shea said.
Every day, 30 Nova Scotians turn 65 and Shea noted that the province’s current three years of modest growth is expected to decline because of the shrinking and aging population.
Shea told council that 88 per cent of all newcomers to Nova Scotia settle in the Halifax Regional Municipality, that Cape Breton has 14.3 per cent of the population of Nova Scotia, but only 3.5 per cent of the immigrants, and that Cape Breton has lost 18 per cent of its population under 15 in the past 10 years.
“We can’t keep losing the population we have and still expect to keep schools, hospitals and services,” Shea noted.
But on the positive side, Shea said First Nations communities are growing, and international university students offer opportunities because they are studying locally, making connections with the local business community and can see what opportunities exist locally.
Also encouraging, according to Shea, are the results from an Abacus Poll about the attitudes of Cape Breton residents toward immigration. She said 87 per cent of those surveyed support governments working together on immigration and responses to increasing cultural diversity on the island were “overwhelmingly positive.”
District 1 councillor James Goyetche stated that immigration by itself, without infrastructure and government assistance, will not create sufficient economic growth.
Shea responded that immigration policies which concentrate on attracting entrepreneurs to the region will provide growth from someone starting a business and employing people.
Without a change in immigration policy, Shea added that the negative numbers for Cape Breton will not change. She said immigrants are settling in the HRM because of policies and more local control over immigration levels is required because it will allow communities to decide who will best fit in their areas.