Northern immigration program extended

By Sandi Krasowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chronicle-Journal

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission has been granted an extension on their Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot, which is a program used to recommend newcomers to Canada for permanent residency and place them into jobs in Thunder Bay and other areas in the region. 

The extension, which was granted by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, affects both the operating area and the length of the program. 

Lexie Penko, a community health sciences recruiter at the Community Economic Development Commission, is overseeing the pilot that began in 2019 and has administered 184 participating employers and nearly 400 recommended candidates to date. 

Through this pilot, Resolute Forest Products was able to hire 40 Ukrainian immigrants in three of their Northwestern Ontario plants in Atikokan, Ignace and Thunder Bay this summer. 

The team is well on the way to meeting this year’s target number of 250 recommended candidates with the potential for an increased allotment of recommendations for next year. So far this year, the economic development commission recommended 175 candidates for permanent residence, with many more applications under review.

Penko explained how employers can use their immigration pilot to fill vacancies not being filled by the local labour market. 

“Employers apply to use the program through the (Community Economic Development Commission) and have to agree to provide a culturally inclusive and welcoming work environment. They have to be located within Thunder Bay’s immigration pilot catchment and they have to be paying the employee a wage that is comparable to what people in the region are already being paid to do that job,” she said. “If they are approved, they can make a formal job offer to an eligible candidate.” 

She said that candidate may already be in Thunder Bay, in Canada or in another country, in which case they will have to get a work permit. 

“Essentially, if they have a qualified candidate, that candidate will also apply to the (Community Economic Development Commission) where we will look at their application and their documentation to make sure that they are eligible for the program,” Penko says. 

“Then we will give them a recommendation, which means that we are telling (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) that we’re recommending this person to apply for permanent resident status under the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot.”

Penko added that the advantage to using the immigration pilot program over other streams of immigration is it tends to be specific to our community. She said depending on what the employer’s needs are, it tends to be a more suitable program depending on the kind of jobs they need to fill.

Part of the eligibility criteria for candidates for the immigration pilot is language skills, and Penko says that’s because the federal government is looking for a resilient workforce. 

“In the case that this person’s job goes away, at some point, they will at least have language skills, meaning they can speak English or French adequately enough to find a job somewhere else,” she said. 

Penko also stressed that it is a misconception that immigrants are taking jobs from Canadians. The labour shortage in Thunder Bay and across Canada is well documented. 

“Immigration is really the only thing that’s going to fill these jobs because Canadians are not doing all the work that needs to be done,” she said.

Meanwhile, Penko says the pilot extension will provide opportunities to build on the success they are already having. Despite a setback due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she believes at least one more year of administering the immigration pilot will allow them to achieve what they need to.

The Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot has been extended to Feb. 29, 2024 with the geographical boundaries now encompassing Thunder Bay and Rainy River Districts.