The Honourable Ahmed Hussen
Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
RE: Submission Regarding Immigration Levels
Dear Minister Hussen,
The Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce appreciates the opportunity to provide input on the federal government’s immigration intake levels for the current three-year plan. Immigration remains a key issue for our members and we are encouraged by the government’s initiative to engage in community consultations. The chamber represents over 850 businesses and acts as the voice of business in the Greater Sudbury area.
Northern Ontario communities face a critical demographic challenge. According to a recent analysis commissioned by the City of Greater Sudbury, Greater Sudbury is the only major urban area in Northern Ontario with a growing population; every other major urban area in Northern Ontario either experienced a decline in population or remained stable in the period from 2001 to 2016. Mid-range projections estimate Greater Sudbury’s population to grow approximately four percent from 2016 to 2046. Such an increase is not sufficient to enhance local economic prosperity.
The Northern Policy Institute estimates that just to limit the fall in Northern Ontario’s ratio of dependents to working age people to match the expected Ontario level by 2041, Northern Ontario needs some 5,000 new people each year for the next twenty years. That’s 100,000 new northerners. We need 300,000 new northerners, 15,000 per year, if we want to maintain our current ratios of workers to dependents.
Declining populations restrict the economic growth of the region and lead to community decline. Employers already face chronic challenges in finding and retaining employees, and such challenges exist across a broad spectrum of industries. The federal government must partner with Northern Ontario stakeholders to increase immigration levels to the region. Policies directed at such objectives will lead to economic growth, healthier communities, and stronger institutions in every region they are implemented.
To achieve these goals, we urge the federal government to:
- invest in opening IRCC offices in Northern Ontario; at a bare minimum in both Greater Sudbury and Thunder Bay;
- implement a targeted immigration program for Northern Ontario;
- expand the provincial nominee program to cater to specific regional needs; and
- improve legislation allowing international students to work and transition to permanent residency.
Invest in opening IRCC offices in Northern Ontario:
In 2012, the federal government cut $29.8 million from the budget of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, now Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and closed nineteen offices across Canada, with a number of services being relocated to central offices or online. These closures have had a profound impact on the ability of smaller urban centres to attract, retain, and service newcomers and international students.
IRCC offices are critical for successful settlement and integration of immigrants into their local communities; they help immigrants and international students complete legal documents, assist with citizenship testing, permanent resident card pickups, and assist with immigration interviews abroad. In addition, these offices also act as a resource for employers looking to recruit from abroad. The absence of localized, stand-alone trained IRCC professionals to assist newcomers, international students, and local businesses requires those in need of such services to travel long distances to centrally managed locations, or to navigate complicated and oftentimes confusing on-lines procedures. Because of these challenges, many now seek such services at their local MP’s office, which have neither the same depth of expertise nor the same level of resources as dedicated IRCC offices. The closure of these offices limits the ability of small communities to attract immigrants, which ultimately exacerbates demographic challenges such as those facing Northern Ontario.
The federal government must implement policies to overcome this issue. Specific actions should include:
- conduct a cost-benefit analysis of offering immigration services in rural and northern communities that faced IRCC closures. This analysis should include different options such as transferring in experienced staff to rural and northern communities to be able to take on this role, hiring IRCC service staff at existing government buildings to assist newcomers, international students, and local businesses, or re-opening select or targeted offices based on the results of the research; and
- ensure that there is a regional strategy to apply fairly the resources required to meet the settlement needs for newcomers in all regions of the country.
Implement a targeted immigration program in Northern Ontario:
The federal government should implement an immigration program in Northern Ontario similar to the one currently being tested in Atlantic Canada.
Northern Ontario employers continually cite a labour shortage as one of the key challenges for their business. Despite sustained efforts to recruit qualified employees, employers remain unable to fill all their vacancies. Additionally, employers also struggle with employee retention. Central to these difficulties are Northern Ontario’s smaller communities and remote locations: because populations are smaller and more isolated, talent pools are more limited than they are in major urban centres and employers have fewer options when trying to fill vacancies. Because of these challenges and the difficult in addressing them through local hiring, the government should make it easier for businesses to find, attract, and retain talent from international communities.
While regular provincial nominee programs cater to the needs of the province as a whole, they neglect labour shortages in other, more sparsely populated parts of the province, such as northern communities. In Ontario, the provincial nominee program reflects the needs of major population centres like the GTA, but neglects those of Northern Ontario. An immigration program based on the Atlantic Immigration Pilot would be a reasonable solution to these issues. The Atlantic Immigration Pilot acknowledges that it is local employers who know best their own needs and those of the local economy. Allowing individual employers to attract international talent would not only fill that particular business’s needs, but also alleviate the pressures of population decline and contribute significantly to economic growth and prosperity.
Employers in the Atlantic provinces have expressed satisfaction with the results and mechanics of the immigration pilot. The business community in Northern Ontario supports the implementation of such a program in our communities. In addition to our local MPs, the mayors of the Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Timmins, and North Bay have also called for the implementation of such a program. The program has broad support in Northern Ontario and the government should expedite its implementation in the region.
The federal government should:
- build on existing programs such as the Atlantic Immigration Pilot and examine its potential for increasing migration to smaller communities; and
- in partnership with local stakeholders, implement an immigration program in Northern Ontario with the goal of increasing regional immigration to alleviate challenges posed by population decline and labour shortages.
Expand the Provincial Nominee Program to cater to regional needs:
As noted above, the provincial nominee program (PNP) is too broad to meet the diverse needs of every region in Ontario. Ontario’s labour market, for example, differs greatly between the needs of GTHA employers and Northern Ontario employers. Neither does weighting labour market needs by population density solve the problem: the GTHA vastly outnumbers the rest of Ontario, the Lower Mainland outnumbers the rest of British Columbia, and Calgary and Edmonton outnumber the rest of Alberta, to cite just three examples. The overwhelming populations of these large urban centres leads to the neglect of labour market needs of the rest of the province when it comes time for the provincial government to allocate PNP intake to particular industries.
In response to these shortcomings of a well-intentioned program, the federal government should work with provincial governments to mandate considerations of underserved areas of each province. This can be done by way of instituting a regional PNP separate from an immigration program. Instituting such a program would allow the voices of small and remote communities to be heard and allow them to have their labour market needs met through immigration.
The federal government should:
- partner with provincial governments to mandate consideration of the labour market needs of northern and remote communities when allocating immigrant intake to specific industries.
Improve legislation allowing international students to work and transition to permanent residency:
International students are a critical part of Canada’s foreign-born population. There were close to half a million international students studying in Canada in 2017, and 51 percent of them intend to apply for permanent residency after completing their studies. Despite this interest, between 2004 and 2013, only 25 percent of international students became permanent residents.
This is a pool of human capital that Canada should prioritize retaining: international students are often young, already well-established in Canada, familiar with the country (thus requiring limited settlement planning), and highly skilled and educated. The federal government must work to close the gap between those interested in permanent residency and those who acquire it.
In addition, international students have an archaic system governing their employment during their time here in Canada. For instance, an employer in Sudbury, Ontario hired and trained a recent international student, but was unable to put him to work until his academic year started, costing both the employer and employee valuable time and resources. Episodes such as this should not occur, especially in Northern Ontario where labour shortages are already so prevalent. International students are often confined to their campus for employment, which presents challenges in terms of job availability and relevant experience for their post-graduate career.
The federal government should:
- improve the ability of international students to transition to permanent residency upon completion of their studies;
- amend relevant regulations to allow international students greater access to the labour market during the course of their studies or immediately preceding their studies; and
- develop a strategy to increase retention rates of international students in rural and northern communities.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide our input into the federal government’s immigration plans. We trust you will take our recommendations and the needs of Northern Ontario into consideration.
PRESIDENT & CEO
cc Paul Lefebvre, MP Sudbury
Marc Serré, MP Nickel Belt
France Gélinas, MPP Nickel Belt
Jamie West, MPP Sudbury
Mayor Brian Bigger, City of Greater Sudbury
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce
Ontario Chamber of Commerce