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Watts looking forward to additional immigration to Nova Scotia

The recent announcement by the federal government of an increase in the number of immigrants entering the country over the next two years is “exciting news” says the CEO of the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS).

“We certainly support and are prepared to welcome more immigrants to Nova Scotia,” Jennifer Watts says.

Watts says she’s confident the new immigrants will play a major role in the economic and social life of the province. She says immigrants have always helped build Nova Scotia infrastructure in a variety of ways, everything from volunteering in the community to helping to bring both diversity and an increased student population to many schools that have suffered from declining enrollment.

She definitely agrees with Immigration Minister Sean Fraser that additional workers are needed not only in Nova Scotia, but throughout the country.

Ottawa has set a target of 500,000 immigrants coming into the country by 2025. That compares to 405,000 in 2021 and 465,000 by the end of this year. The plan places a strong emphasis on work skills and experience to help fill the approximately one million vacant jobs across Canada.

More than half of immigrants to Canada between 2016 and 2021 entered under the skilled worker program. Meanwhile, the number of family reunification immigrants is set to increase slightly under the new plan going from 106,000 next year to approximately 118,000 in 2025. The number of refugee claims is slated to go down from 76,000 next year to approximately 73,000 in two years.

Watts says one of the main challenges new immigrants to Nova Scotia and the maritime region in general will find is the lack of affordable housing options. However, she is also hoping the influx of additional workers will also help make a dent in those numbers.

“We need project managers, construction workers, and labourers to be able to help solve that problem, she says.

Watts says she’s also hopeful the program will help attract additional medical professionals to the province to help improve services in that front. Since virtually every occupation is experiencing labour shortages, she says it’s more vital than at perhaps any other time in the province’s history to attract new people.

“We have to make sure we have the programs in place to help them achieve their full potential,” she says. “This is a really important call to action for all of us to welcome them and help them find employment and to make sure they’re supported in that job and in the community so they develop a sense of belonging.”

Watts says she is concerned about the backlog in processing applications by the federal government. Fraser pledged to hire additional resources to help with the backlog of more than 1.3 million applications. Watts says agencies such as ISANS will work to pressure government to improve the processing time.

She says her organization and others throughout the region work with businesses to help them develop strategies that support and encourage a more ethnically-diverse workforce. Watts views that as one of the keys to ensuring the Atlantic region receives its share of new immigrants.

The latest census figures from Statistics Canada show immigrants and permanent residents now comprise 23 per cent of the population, an all-time high. The agency indicates immigrants who have arrived since 2016 accounted for more than 75 per cent of the growth in the labour force between 2016 and 2021.

The Business Council of Canada (BCC), which is composed of chief executives from more than 150 businesses across the country, enthusiastically welcomes the announcement. Their major criticism is the program is not aggressive enough.

The council issued a news release saying it wants to see the number of immigrants admitted under the economic category increase from just over half to 65 per cent of the total rather than the government benchmark of 60 per cent.

“Every job that is not filled represents one less person contributing to Canada’s economic growth and one less person paying taxes to support Canada’s social infrastructure,” says BCC president and CEO Goldy Hyder.

The council says a recent survey of its members found 67 per cent cancelled or delayed major projects because they couldn’t find workers. The group also says 30 per cent of members report they were forced to relocate work outside of Canada.

Andy Walker

Andy Walker has been a journalist in PEI for over 30 years. After a career working for both PEI's daily newspapers, covering everything from the provincial legislature to hockey games, he has been a full-time freelance writer since 1997. Andy has been editor of the Island Farmer, a biweekly publication which covers the agriculture scene, since 2000. He and his wife, Angela, have four adult children and they reside in Cornwall.

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