Alberta launching new programs to boost rural immigration

Always an uphill challenge, and latest Census data indicates ever increasing percentage flocking to urban areas. That being said, even small increases in rural areas can make a difference there even if one of the motivators is political:

Alberta’s United Conservative government is hoping two new programs will bring more immigrants to rural Alberta communities.

Speaking at the Fairness for Newcomers Summit in downtown Calgary on Wednesday, Premier Jason Kenney said the programs will encourage skilled workers from abroad to settle outside the province’s big cities to help fill anticipated labour shortages.

“We’re determined to get more than our share of newcomers,” Kenney said. “Newcomers don’t take jobs away from Albertans but help to create jobs. They create additional demand, they create additional wealth and, very typically, they create additional businesses that hire people.”

The Rural Renewal Stream will allow municipalities outside the Calgary and Edmonton metropolitan areas with fewer than 100,000 people to apply to become a designated community for immigrants.

The other program, the Rural Entrepreneur Stream, will let immigrants who want to start or buy a business in rural Alberta visit communities to assess their plans. The UCP had first pitched the programs as campaign promises before the 2019 provincial election.

The Wednesday announcement comes in the wake of the 2021 census, which revealed Alberta has seven of the 10 fastest-shrinking municipalities across Canada, all in far-flung rural areas, as rural communities face aging populations and a dwindling workforce.

One difficulty for immigrants to rural communities is having their foreign credentials recognized, said UCP Associate Minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism Muhammad Yaseen. He said the government is aiming to make it easier for trained professionals to put their skills to use, which he said could help alleviate the province’s ongoing rural doctor shortage.

“A larger issue is, how do we get international medical graduates who are here, in Calgary or Edmonton, who are also willing to go to rural Alberta?” Yaseen told Postmedia.“We’re doing whatever we can to help them, to facilitate them, and not only doctors but engineers and pharmacists and others. We don’t want anybody left behind just because their credentials are not recognized.”

Yaseen immigrated to Canada from Pakistan with his family when he was 17, and in 1979 took his first job in Rimbey, about 65 kilometres northwest of Red Deer. At the time, he was the only person of colour in the rural community, something he said has shifted in the intervening decades.

Yaseen did face some discrimination, but said many people welcomed him into the community.

“Rural Alberta culture is a culture of hospitality, a culture of generosity, a culture of sharing and caring, and I learned a lot when I moved there,” he said.

Immigrant Services Calgary applauded the new initiatives, saying they expect plans to boost rural immigration to have broader economic benefits for the province.

“The rural immigration streams announced today will not only contribute to the local economies of small towns and centres across Alberta, but they’ll also support and grow the provincial economy,” said Hyder Hassan, CEO of the local non-profit.

The Opposition NDP criticized the announcement, saying additional community supports need to be established in communities that will be welcoming immigrants.

“These new streams will not be enough to help communities set newcomers up for success,” NDP labour critic Christina Gray said in a statement.

Source: Alberta launching new programs to boost rural immigration

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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