Between August and October, the Provincial Government held an impressively thorough series of roundtable discussions with the aim of enhancing the experience of immigration for new Newfoundlanders (retention, retention, retention!).  More 100 individuals, representing  47 groups attended the roundtable sessions (which were held throughout the province).

The government’s goal is to increase the number of skilled foreign workers coming to our province to 1,700 per year, by 2022. That goal has been met with some misguided notions among comment-thread contributors that immigrants “take our jobs” and “government cares more about ‘them’ than ‘us.’”

That sentiment runs contrary to fact. Immigrants strengthen our workforce and our economy. One need only dine around town to agree that immigrants create jobs here. Places like Mohamad Ali’s, Sumac, and International Flavours are not only spicing up our meal options, they’re employing locals at a time jobs are hard to come by.

As a whole, immigrants are better educated than Canadians, and many of Newfoundland’s employers need skilled workers to come here from abroad because of gaps in our workforce, gaps skilled foreign workers fill for us, to keep our economy chugging along. Studies have proven, with numbers, not speculation, that Canada’s economy and job creation each spike when immigration spikes.

And it’s a fact immigrants rely less on social assistance than Canadian-born Canadians, so the myth that “they come here and we have to support them” is dead wrong, and a bizarre notion seems to confuse compassionate refugee intake with government-regulated immigration programs.

A much-cited 2011 study by CanadaFAQ showed that 63% of immigrants in Canada were “economic immigrants,” meaning workers who were specifically selected based on their qualifications, job skills, and ability to contribute to Canada’s economy.

NL, like Canada, has shortages for certain fields and trades like engineers with practical experience, or highly trained doctors.  And who do you want cracking your chest open, or building the bridge you cart your kid over? A skilled worker, right?

In 1967, the Canadian government introduced a point system for immigrants so that the selection process favours skills we need here.  Newfoundland’s population is in a weird state of flux: it’s top-heavy with older folks, and tons of our young workers move away. Employers are struggling to fill vital positions no one here can fill.

Paul Darby, director of the Conference Board of Canada, has stated that he estimates a shortfall of 3-million skilled Canadian workers by the year 2020. Our province is merely getting ahead of that. And as their new report says, “immigrants can provide opportunities to expand businesses internationally and develop valuable connections that can assist in export trade and other initiatives.”

The takeaway message from a very thorough 2013 report from the OECD, called the International Migration Outlook, is that without welcoming and retaining immigrants, Canada’s population between 20 and 44 years old would drop disastrously, and it’s the people between 20-44 who are the ones working, buying houses, having children, and paying the bulk of the taxes that keep our country running.

A selfish “they might take my job!” sentiment ignores all of these statistics that our provincial government is commendably acting on.  In 2011, 51% of all skilled immigrants who moved to Canada settled in Toronto. Most of the remainder went to Montreal and Vancouver. Meanwhile, Atlantic Canada as a whole attracted only 3% of skilled immigrants in 2011. Nova Scotia, PEI, and New Brunswick attracted 2-3 times more than NL.

This summer, we made moves to rectify this lost opportunity. In July, our government signed two separate partnership agreements with the federal Government to augment immigration to NL.

And a document released after the fall’s roundtables is asking for employers, communities, and governments to all do their part to collectively make NL “an attractive place for immigrants to live, work, and raise a family.” On government’s end, promotions will soon begin to attract people living in the UK, Western Europe, and even St. Pierre.

One promising strategy will be to retain university & college grads. Apparently, in the fall of 2015, there were 2,300 foreign students studying at post-secondary institutions in NL, all of whom are skilled, prospective permanent residents for our workforce. They’ve spent years in the province, and are therefore more likely to become residents on account of already being here and knowing the place and all of its quirks and quarrels.

The idea of lowering tuition for foreign students was floated as an idea to attract more students-turned-residents, because traditionally, foreign students are charged more than locals.

According to the aforementioned OECD International Migration Outlook study, a significant number of foreign students visiting Canada each year decide to stay after getting a degree. But not here in Atlantic Canada. Retention rates in provinces like BC and Ontario are as high as 91%, but here in NL, it ranges from 43-68%.

To deal with the retention challenge, roundtable participants suggested government-supported English as a Second Language tools for prospective permanent residents, because stronger language skills would combat language barriers during a new Newfoundlander’s transition to permanent resident.

It was suggested as well that government expand settlement supports beyond St. John’s, and streamline the recognition of a person’s educational credentials and previous skills, so they better match their equivalent here in Canada.

Government is also calling on Employers to avail of the Provincial Nominee Program to find the kinds of skilled workers their company requires. NL is a small province, with a lot of its specifically skilled workers working out of province. This leaves a lot of employers with demand for certain kinds of employees, unable to operate here until those gaps in the workforce are filled.

The Provincial Nominee Program can be the bridge between an employer’s needs and prospective employees abroad, in need of work. Currently the program can be used for “Skilled Workers” or “International Grad Students,” but the roundtables suggested adding an “Entrepreneur” category, and, making it easier, on the other end, to be a nominee for either category.