Immigration study to spawn committee

FORT FRANCES—An immigration study completed by the Rainy River Future Development Corp. has been reviewed by the Regional Economic Development Committee (REDC), and the RRFDC now will move forward with some of the recommendations in the report.
“The primary step is to put together some kind of immigration committee to get together to discuss it,” said Geoff Gillon, manager of client services for the RRFDC.
That likely will take place in the next couple of months, he added.
The study was put together over the past year by the RRFDC’s economic development intern, Jessie Zhang, who has since returned to her native China.
The 50-page document outlines the rate of population loss in Rainy River District, the need for immigrants, existing immigration trends in the district, as well as potential challenges.
The report also touches on existing federal and provincial initiatives to attract immigrants, and how other communities in Canada successfully have drawn immigrants to their area.
“The Rainy River District is experiencing the problems of economic stagnancy and population loss,” the report reads, while Canada, as a whole, “is facing the challenge of over-concentration of immigrants in limited urban centres.”
“Both the internal and external environments trigger the district’s interest in exploring the possibility of introducing immigrants to the community for its sustainability,” it goes on.
So far, efforts to attract immigrants to the district have come from religious groups sponsoring refugee families.
While these efforts have contributed to immigration to the district, the report calls for a more organized approach, such as targeting specific groups that may best fit into the local economy.
The report suggests Western European farmers, from countries such as Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands, would be “more adaptable to the district due to their original countries’ culture, languages, climate, and other elements that are similar to Canada.”
Many immigrants currently living in the district come from these countries.
The low cost of land, the attractive natural environment, and the potential to develop organic farming all are identified as strengths that could attract foreign farmers to the area.
Zhang also identified skilled workers in the agricultural industry as another possible target group.
The committee should work with district agricultural organizations to create a database of farms for sale, as well as identify farm employment opportunities for skilled workers, the report suggests.
This is an important step in not just attracting but also retaining any new immigrants.
“You have to have employment for people if you want to bring them here,” Gillon noted.
“Limited job opportunities remain a main concern for the district to launch a large-scale immigration campaign,” Zhang wrote in her report.
For this reason, the report also identifies international students as a potential group to attract to the region, though they are not technically immigrants.
“They are of great value to the district’s economy. They have the potential to become immigrants and to integrate into the local community more easily,” Zhang wrote.
The report also identifies medical professionals and skilled trades people as desirable immigrants to the area.
The difficulty lies in the Ontario government’s refusal to license foreign-trained medical professionals “unless they have Canadian post-graduate credentials in family practice or specialty.”
This is in stark contrast to policies in Newfoundland and Manitoba where “over a quarter of practicing physicians [have been] trained in the U.K. or South Africa.”
Zhang made a number of short-term recommendations, including establishing a regional immigration committee and involving the community in the initiative by inviting them to a brainstorming session.
Public awareness of the need for immigrants also is vital to the initiative, she noted.
Once the committee is established, Zhang suggested to start with a pilot project to attract small groups of targeted immigrants, such as Western European farmers and international students.
“The district should clearly express its interest and determination to pursue an immigration project to upper levels of governments,” she noted, as well as lobby for special incentives or support for immigration to Northwestern Ontario.
Gillon noted the committee also will have to “seriously look at the infrastructure for immigration” in the area.
The lack of supports, such as English as a second language education, also could prove a barrier to attracting immigrants.
Long-term goals should include working with other Northern Ontario communities to develop an immigration strategy for the region, Zhang wrote.
“The committee should work with local employment and economic organizations . . . to identify the district’s employment gaps and business opportunities, and build a related database,” the report reads.
Other long-term goals could include multiple marketing initiatives and establishing a one-stop immigration service centre.
(Fort Frances Times)