Manitoba is at the forefront of the battle to get new immigrants to settle in rural areas, and it is having some success.
Figures from Brandon University’s Rural Development Institute show 20 per cent of newcomers to Manitoba settle in rural communities. That’s compared to a national average nearer 6 per cent, according to the institute.
Officials suggest the trend could be down to efforts to welcome and accept newcomers into rural communities.
Immigration Minister John McCallum has made it one of his key goals to get newcomers to spread out around Canada’s provinces and territories.
One of the big arguments against increased immigration is that new permanent residents generally end up in big cities such as Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, attracted by perceived better job opportunities.
The challenge for the Canadian government is to make them see that Canada’s rural communities also have much to offer.
Ontario’s Rural Employment Initiative (REI) attempts to do this by engaging new permanent residents and helping them find a job or establish a business aligned with their skills in rural areas.
Too often immigrants arrive in big cities and take the first job that comes along out of desperation, when an opportunity could be waiting for them in a rural area, according to the REI, which also works with employers and rural communities.
The problem is that while Vancouver and Toronto are teeming with newcomers, other cities and provinces, particularly in Atlantic Canada, are facing issues with aging populations making them desperate for greater immigration.
McCallum has said before there is little he can do to stop immigrants arriving in one province and moving to another, as once they have permanent residency their free movement is protected by the Canadian constitution.
This is not a new problem for Canada, so if the current government is going to solve it, they need to think innovatively.
Provincial policy makers need to create the right conditions and consider a variety of measures for immigrants to choose to live in specific areas.
Some possible policies include:
- Short term provincial tax credits for new residents.
- Offer residential land purchases in outlying areas at below market prices.
- Conditional property tax exemptions.
Given the need to rely on immigration as a tool to meet growing demographic challenges, policy makers in Atlantic Canada and elsewhere must consider the carrot approach.
The immigration tools are in place. They just need to be complemented with input from a much wider range of stakeholders to create the right conditions for immigrants to remain by choice.
This strategy will go a long way to helping ensure the success of Canada’s overall immigration policy objectives.
It is not clear whether the federal government has a legal avenue to explore in terms of making immigrants reside in a specific province or area.
For a court to allow such a limitation, McCallum would have to show that chronic labour shortages in certain areas of Canada are a threat to the future of those areas.
Then a court might be convinced of the seriousness of the issue.
If the restriction was temporary and not too onerous on newcomers, there is a chance a court could find a way towards allowing it.
Building a new immigration program stream specifically for this purpose could also offset some of the concerns, as newcomers would know exactly what they are signing up for.
Immigrants could be restricted to living in certain areas, and in return they would be in with a better chance of gaining permanent residency, and more quickly.
But all of this seems unlikely given the major hurdle is the constitutional right to free movement for permanent residents.
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