Nova Scotia’s immigration picture uncertain amid pandemic

Realistic acknowledgement of uncertainty by the minister:

Nova Scotia welcomed a record number of immigrants in 2019, setting high expectations for immigration numbers in 2020.

But with travel restrictions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it’s uncertain whether the province will be able to welcome as many or more immigrants this year than it did last year.

In 2019, the province welcomed 7,580 new permanent residents, surpassing the previous record of 5,970 in 2018.

And Nova Scotia was off to a good start and “certainly on track” to setting a new record in 2020, according to Immigration Minister Lena Metlege Diab. In the first quarter, the province admitted 1,185 permanent residents, compared to 1,270 in the first quarter of 2019.

Diab said it’s too soon to tell how COVID-19 will affect immigration numbers in Nova Scotia for the remainder of the year.

“Going on eight weeks now, and immigration is a long-term process, it obviously takes months for people, once they’re approved and so on to actually land in the country, so at the moment we don’t see that as an issue,” she said.

“Premature what will happen if this (pandemic) continues months and months, but at the moment we’re continuing to process applications and our staff is all working remotely.”

She added the province is prioritizing the immigration of essential workers including health-care professionals and truck drivers to address a “shortage of workers in those areas.”

Immigration predictions

Seeing how Nova Scotia has planted “very significant immigration roots” in the last five years, Halifax immigration lawyer Lee Cohen said he thinks it’s “likely” that the province will enjoy the immigration numbers that it did last year, if not exceed them in 2020.

“I think the appetite out there in the world for people wanting to immigrate to Canada and wanting to immigrate to Nova Scotia specifically remains high and active,” said Cohen.

“The COVID-19 event of course slows down the movement of paper and certainly the movement of people. … How long the restrictions will remain in place will determine the outcome here, but I think that Halifax specifically and Nova Scotia generally have become immigration destination locations.”

Jennifer Watts, CEO of the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, said the number of immigrants coming to the province has “definitely slowed down quite a bit” since the start of the pandemic, following “a fantastic uptick” of immigrants and refugees arriving over the past couple of years.

She said her association will be waiting to see how immigration programs move forward.

“Obviously there’s a lot of interest and there’d be a big benefit to Nova Scotia, where we really benefit so much from immigration, to be able to have those opportunities again, to really help drive, even more so now, the economic development of our province,” said Watts, adding immigration helps further “social and cultural diversity” in the province as well.

Watts said the contributions of immigrants in the province have been “quite significant” during the pandemic, as many are working in frontline services, noting the arrival of more immigrants will help the province in its “recovery” stage once the pandemic is over as well.

“What we really gain from immigrants coming in is the innovation, the new ideas and the global competitiveness that they bring, so that will be also very key, as we’re really trying to reimagine what our new way of life is going to be, and the more broad-based experiences, the new ideas, the new ways of looking at things that immigrants have always brought into our community, will be very valuable,” she said.

ISANS is also waiting to see when the federal government will resume refugee settlement in Canada, said Watts.

“We will be waiting to see as the government once again establishes their offices overseas and the flights begin to run … so it may be that we see not many (refugees) arriving over the next couple of months, but we’re not quite sure what will happen in the fall.”

Source: Nova Scotia’s immigration picture uncertain amid pandemic

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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