October 23, 2018 – A rural pilot immigration program could be an important tool in helping Canada motivate new immigrants to settle in smaller communities.
While the vast majority of immigrants settle in big cities, some of Canada’s most acute labour shortages are seen in rural areas.
The employer-driven Atlantic Immigration Pilot is already seeing significant success in the Maritime provinces.
Now the federal government should consider a similar program in other rural areas, with the mayors of Northern Ontario already voicing their support.
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Designing such a program must considering all relevant factors and requirements.
1) Defining Rural
The first step towards a pilot immigration program for rural Canada would be to come up with an acceptable definition for a rural area. A cut-off population of around 15,000 is one way of defining a rural community.
2) Identifying In-Demand Jobs
Studies have shown NOC C and D category jobs – middle skilled jobs – are in greater demand in rural areas.
Different rural areas would have different requirements depending how the community’s economy is structured. Simply copying urban programs won’t work.
To attract immigrants and to simultaneously protect domestic candidates, the program may need to define broad categories and leave it to the provincial or local government to finalize in-demand jobs.
A cap of one-third of the total number of verified positions in the federal job bank will prevent a single job classification or category from dominating the program.
Encouraging rural employers to use the job bank will facilitate greater understanding of the rural job market.
3) An Annual Cap with Geographical Sub-Targets
An annual cap or quota under a rural program should be determined based on:
- Existing unemployment in the province or region.
- Current and ideal ratio of working-age to retirement-age.
- Geographical sub-targets to prevent metropolitan-influenced zones from dominating the program.
While a nationwide cap may be neither feasible nor advisable, the federal government can impose region-specific caps just like the AIP.
Each province in the region can be allotted a fixed quota with the option of claiming additional spots depending on requirements.
4) Duration of the Pilot Program
Like the AIP, the rural pilot program too should be introduced for at least three years. Considering the success of the AIP, the government can consider a five-year duration.
This will help the government collect more data about immigration in rural communities.
5) Comprehensive Monitoring and Reporting
Finally, the program must have an in-built monitoring mechanism with public release of regular progress reports.
Monitoring needs to cover:
- the functioning of the pilot program.
- areas of improvement.
- impact of settlement and other third-party agencies.
- overall socio-economic impact on rural communities.
A rural pilot program will help broaden the scope of immigration in Canada, reduce the burden on cities, and help the government explore innovative ways to boost population and economic growth.
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