A new federal government pilot project will bring up to 250 immigrants (not refugees) to four West Kootenay communities in 2020.
The Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot, announced last month, named 11 Canadian communities that would benefit from increased immigration to address local economic development needs. Among those selected were Nelson, Castlegar, Trail, Rossland, and surrounding areas.
How the newcomers will be divided out between those communities will depend on employment opportunities and housing availability, according to a news release from Community Futures Central Kootenay, which will co-ordinate the project.
“This project is community-driven,” said Community Futures’ Andrea Wilkey in the statement. “We’ll be talking to local employers to find out the type of skills shortages they’re experiencing and setting the region-specific application criteria based on their needs. We’ll be looking to attract immigrants for jobs that have gone unfilled locally.”
The Kootenays currently have an unemployment rate of 6.3 per cent, which is above the provincial average of 4.5 per cent.
Yet jobs remain unfilled, according to the news release, which states that since January more than 1,000 vacancies have been advertised on the Kootenay Career Development Services job board. Some local businesses are operating with an employee shortage because they can’t find anyone to fill their open positions.
Asked what kinds of businesses are experiencing such vacancies, Wilkey told the Star that West Kootenay employers require highly skilled workers “in a range of industries including mining and metallurgy, forestry, manufacturing, health care, transportation, construction, education and technology as well as entry-level employees in retail, tourism, accommodation and food services.”
As examples, she said Sutco Transportation needs drivers, and Whitewater Ski Resort needs entry level lift staff as well as instructors, lift hosts and food service staff. She said Rossland’s Thoughtexchange needs people for software development and sales as well as data analytics.
Wilkey told the Star that Community Futures will analyze the availability of housing for the immigrants. She said that Nelson, because of its zero vacancy rate, might invite fewer immigrants than surrounding rural areas or other communities.
She suggested that an immigrant might work in Nelson but live in an outlying community such as Salmo or Ainsworth.
In the fall, Community Futures will hire a co-ordinator to manage the immigration pilot and work with employers to identify positions that could be filled by newcomers. Then, those employers will be able to hire employees from outside of country or those who are within Canada but are not yet citizens or permanent residents. Once a prospective immigrant has a job offer, they apply for endorsement from the community.
“We’ll have a committee of community stakeholders help set our local criteria for endorsing our ‘best fit’ candidates. We’ll be looking for people with a genuine employment opportunity who intend to stay in the community and help grow our local economy,” Wilkey said.
The endorsed candidates will be eligible to apply to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and if they meet the federal selection criteria, they will get their permanent residence and be able to move to the community to start their new job.