Gateway Gazette

Making Immigration Work for Alberta

UCP to Overhaul Alberta Immigration Strategy to Attract Entrepreneurs, Renew Rural Communities
CHESTERMERE, AB (February 25, 2019): United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney today announced that a UCP government will launch a new Alberta Advantage Immigration Strategy designed to help reignite the provincial economy.

“The UCP would consult with employers, settlement organizations, experts and immigrants themselves, and would study best practices in other provinces. Our goal is to end large backlogs, speed up processing, proactively attract talented newcomers from overseas, welcome entrepreneurs, and encourage settlement in rural Alberta.”

Kenney began unveiling aspects of the strategy, including a focus on attracting entrepreneurs to invest in Alberta and create jobs here, and a special program to help revitalize rural communities.

“For Alberta to grow and prosper, for us to renew the Alberta Advantage, we will need the hard work, skills and entrepreneurship of newcomers,” said Kenney. “Meanwhile, one of the biggest challenges facing rural communities today is population decline, which often means a succession crisis when retiring business owners cannot find interested buyers. Through the Rural Entrepreneur Immigration Program, we will tackle these two challenges at the same time.”

Under the Rural Entrepreneur Immigration Program, prospective immigrants able to meet minimum net worth and investment thresholds, who are prepared to live and actively own and manage a business in any of Alberta’s eligible small towns and villages, would be paired with interested communities. With community referral, they could be nominated for the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program to obtain permanent residency within Canada’s immigration system.

“Alberta has a long history of attracting entrepreneurial immigrants who go on to be very successful, creating jobs for others and bringing growth to Alberta,” said Kenney. “This program would bring newcomers to smaller communities, in some cases buying existing businesses, in others starting new ones. Everybody wins.”

Kenney also announced that as part of its immigration overhaul, a UCP government would launch the Rural Renewal Program, modeled after a highly successful initiative in Manitoba.

“Our goal is to match Manitoba’s success in having 20 per cent of its newcomers settle in rural communities. We can do that by inviting municipalities to become partners in recruiting and retaining talented newcomers to help revitalize their communities,” Kenney said.

The Rural Renewal Program would grant extra points in the Express Entry Immigration system, and faster processing under the Alberta Immigration Nominee Program for applicants sponsored by a participating local community. “This is how Morden, Manitoba doubled its population in the past decade. Our goal to see at least 32,000 hard working newcomers help to bring new life to rural communities through our Rural Renewal Program over the next four years.”

As a federal cabinet minister, UCP Leader Kenney was Canada’s longest-serving immigration minister. He led profound reforms to the way immigration was handled, leading the National Post to call him “likely Canada’s best immigration minister, ever.”

Under Kenney’s leadership:

  • Immigration backlogs were slashed.
  • Wait-times for economic immigrants dropped from an average of seven years to less than one year.
  • Immigrants were better matched with employers, leading to higher incomes while addressing skill shortages.
  • Funding for settlement services for newcomers was doubled
  • The security and integrity of the system was strengthened, with crackdowns on immigration fraud, human smuggling, fake refugee claims, and crooked immigration consultants.
  • Immigration levels to Alberta doubled from 2007 to 2014, partly by Kenney quadrupling Alberta’s Immigrant Nominee Program quota from 1,200 to 5,000 certificates.
Today’s announcement is the first installment in the UCP’s Alberta Advantage Immigration Strategy. More details will be released in the days to come.
Backgrounder

Making Immigration Work for Alberta

For Alberta to grow and prosper, it will need the hard work, skills and entrepreneurship of newcomers.

As the longest serving modern Canadian Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney led profound reforms to the immigration system, leading the National Post to call him “likely Canada’s best immigration minister, ever.”

Under his leadership:

  • immigration backlogs were slashed,
  • wait times for economic immigrants dropped from an average of seven years to under one year,
  • immigrants were better matched with employers, leading to higher incomes while addressing skill shortages,
  • the security and integrity of the system were strengthened, with crackdowns on immigration fraud, human smuggling, fake refugee claims, and crooked immigration consultants, and
  • the number of permanent residents settling in Alberta doubled.
For too long Alberta, with the strongest economy and largest skill shortages, did not attract its share of immigrants to Canada. That changed radically when Jason Kenney quadrupled the number of economic immigrants that the Alberta Government could select, moving the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program’s (AINP) annual allotment from 1200 to 5000 certificates. (Each certificate typically equates to approximately four new permanent residents, as principal applicants usually land with a spouse and children.)

His other employer-led reforms, like the Canadian Experience Class, the Skilled Trades Stream, and Express Entry also increased the number of federally selected immigrants choosing to make Alberta their new home.  As a result, the number of permanent residents settling in Alberta increased from 21,000 in 2007 to 43,000 in 2014, moving Alberta from 8% to 16% of newcomers to Canada.[1] The top source countries in this period were Philippines, China, India, the USA, and Britain.[2]

These newcomers helped to fuel Alberta’s growth, with the highest incomes in Canada amongst immigrants. But since the NDP came to office, a growing number of new Albertans have faced unemployment or underemployment, while many have left Alberta to pursue opportunity in other parts of the country and overseas, and immigration levels have declined.

Jason Kenney also led reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) to crack down on abuse, and ensure that it is only used as a last and limited resort, in part by imposing a 10 per cent cap on the number of low skilled positions that can be filled by TFWs at a workplace. These reforms helped to reduce dramatically the number of TFWs on work permits in Alberta from 41,000 in 2013, to 8,800 in 2017, a 78 per cent decline.

The NDP has neglected and mismanaged the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program with long backlogs and processing times, while doing nothing to attract top talent from around the world, and failing to exercise political leadership to help newcomers get a fair chance at recognition of their credentials and education.  Alberta is one of the only provinces in Canada not to use its Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) to:

  • Proactively attract top talent from around the world.
  • Encourage entrepreneurs to come and create jobs.
  • Focus immigration on less populated regions.
  • Nominate newcomers for work permits to assess their attachment to the province before nominating them for permanent residency.
The Alberta Advantage Immigration Strategy

United Conservatives believe that renewing the Alberta Advantage and diversifying our economy demands a smart, fast-moving immigration policy that attracts the best and brightest, while encouraging immigrant entrepreneurs to create jobs here.

If elected, a United Conservative government will immediately launch consultations to develop the Alberta Advantage Immigration Strategy.  We will seek input from immigrants, employers, settlement organizations, municipalities, policy experts, and will study best practices in other provinces. The goal will be to end large backlogs, speed up processing times, proactively attract talented newcomers from overseas, welcome job-creating entrepreneurs, and encourage settlement in rural Alberta.

The Alberta Advantage Immigration Strategy would be finalized by the end of 2019, allowing for implementation at the beginning of 2020.

In the days to come the United Conservative Party will unveil elements of the new Alberta Advantage Immigration Strategy, beginning with two streams designed to revitalize rural communities that are challenged by population stagnation or decline.

Immigrants to Canada typically head for the largest cities and this is also true in Alberta, with 29 per cent of Calgary’s population and 24 per cent of Edmonton’s population comprised of immigrants.[3] But immigrants also often make up one-in-ten people in other Alberta cities—or more double that in magnet communities such as Brooks and Wood Buffalo.

Overall, the number of new Canadians living in Alberta has nearly doubled since 2001 to 845,000[4] people.  One of the biggest challenges facing Alberta today is population decline in its rural communities—labour is often scarce, jobs are unfilled and too often there is a ‘succession crisis,’ when retiring business owners cannot find interested buyers.  We can address these challenges by encouraging newcomers who are keen to raise families and start new businesses in rural Alberta.

To tackle these related challenges, the UCP’s Alberta Advantage Immigration Strategy will include a Rural Entrepreneur Stream and a Rural Renewal Program.

Rural Entrepreneur Stream

Alberta’s Rural Entrepreneur Immigration Stream (REIS) would support regional communities to attract entrepreneurs with a desire to start businesses, create jobs, settle in smaller communities, and contribute to their local economy.

Modelled on British Columbia’s Entrepreneur Immigration Regional Pilot (EIRP),[5] the REIS would be part of the existing Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program.

To be eligible, prospective immigrant entrepreneurs would have to:

  • meet minimum net worth and investment thresholds,
  • be willing to live and actively manage a self-owned business in Alberta communities below a certain population threshold, and
  • have a well-developed business plan and relevant business experience
Initially, they would be nominated by the province to receive a two year work permit from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. If, by the end of that period, they have demonstrated an ongoing connection to that community, and a positive job creation record for local residents, they would be nominated by the province for permanent residency under the AINP.

The REIS program would help aging rural business owners find new active buyers from overseas who are willing to start new lives in a smaller Alberta community. The program would also be perfectly suited for great prospective immigrants like the Vertiz family from Mexico, who are facing deportation despite having invested $1 million in starting a small business in Okotoks.[6]

The Rural Entrepreneur Immigration Stream would start with an initial limit of up to 500 positions available in its first year. Its implementation is not expected to incur incremental costs for the provincial government.  If fully subscribed at 500 positions per year, it is estimated to attract approximately 8,000 new permanent residents to rural communities over four years, creating at least 4,000 new jobs for local residents. It is likely that most REIS participants would purchase businesses from Albertans seeking to sell existing businesses, helping to address a succession challenge facing many rural communities.

Rural Renewal Program

To help rural communities tackle the challenge of population decline, the UCP’s Alberta Advantage Immigration Strategy would also adopt a Rural Renewal Program that would prioritize AINP applications from foreign nationals who are committed to living and working in smaller communities throughout Alberta.

This program would be based on Manitoba’s highly successful Community Driven Immigration Initiative, which invites municipalities to develop their own immigration programs. Participating communities would be invited to recruit, screen and nominate a certain number of prospective immigrants under the program. Receiving a letter of nomination from an eligible local community would increase the number of points attributed to the application in the federal government’s Express Entry Profile, and would make qualified applicants eligible for faster processing by the Government of Alberta’s AINP.
Applicants for the Rural Renewal Program could be either temporary residents already living in rural communities (for example, on work permits,) or applicants from overseas who express an intention to reside in a rural community.

This program would encourage municipalities to create strong local supports to help attract and retain newcomers, connect them with employers, provide settlement services, etc. Some Alberta communities, like Brooks, have done so successfully, but this is a model that could be adopted by far more Alberta communities to help address demographic challenges.

Manitoba’s Community Driven Immigration Initiative is partly responsible for 20% of newcomers in that province settling in rural communities, compared to an average of only 6% across Canada.[7]  Morden, Manitoba is a great example of this success: the town’s population has nearly doubled in the past decade thanks to its partnership with the Manitoba Immigrant Nominee Program.[8]

As part of the Rural Renewal Program, a UCP government would also seek to partner with the Government of Canada’s new Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot, a similar program recently announced by the federal government.[9]

It is estimated that the UCP’s Rural Renewal Program could increase by at least 32,000 the number of permanent residents settling in smaller communities over four years. Implementation is not expected to impose incremental costs on the provincial government, although participating municipalities would have to devote resources to attracting and retaining newcomers.

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[4] 2016 census, http://bit.ly/2T22Wjq. Alberta’s immigrant population has grown from 437,150 in 2001 (15% of the population) to 845,220 (21% of the population) by 2016.

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