The federal government is planning a massive increase in the number of immigrants allowed to enter Canada, and some groups in Alberta think it will help businesses experiencing labour shortages.
The plan, announced by immigration minister Sean Fraser Tuesday, envisions a flood of new arrivals from outside the country: 465,000 people in 2023 — rising to 500,000 in 2025 — with a heavy emphasis on admitting people based on work skills or experience.
To make sure the new Canadians can actually help with the labour shortage, Alberta groups want lighter restrictions on immigrants taking lower-wage jobs and for the government to support agencies that help resettle the newcomers.
The Calgary Chamber of Commerce released a report Tuesday detailing what it calls the critical role immigration plays in alleviating labour challenges.
“Immigration is so important to addressing the talent shortage that every business is facing across the country, whether you’re in the service sector, the tech sector, the energy sector, the health care sector, everybody’s looking for that last unit of labor,” said executive director Deborah Yedlin.
While she welcomes the announcement, she proposes the focus shift to include lower wage workers and more than just skilled professionals who are technically trained.
“(With) something like the Alberta Opportunity Stream … there’s a bit of a catch-22 because you need prior work experience, you need language skills, and it means that these programs are only available to a select number of immigrants,” said Yedlin.
“We need to figure out how to make sure that the ability to come and work is offered as an opportunity for a broader sector of the immigrant population than it already is.”
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Edmonton Centre MP Randy Boissonault said the cheaper cost of living in Alberta can help attract people.
“Edmonton and Calgary are top of the list of affordable housing across the country because, not just those cities, but all cities in Alberta have been very good at continuing to build housing,” said Boissonault.
He hopes the hundreds of thousands of newcomers will be able to fill shortages in the tech sector.
“When I was meeting with the Alberta Machine Institute in downtown Edmonton, they were saying that a lot of their partners are looking for the computer scientists and the math experts that are going to really push the frontiers of artificial intelligence, the machine learning,” he said.
The provincial government runs a program with a goal of expediting processing of foreign workers employed at Alberta tech companies.
Yedlin said companies are having to lean on immigration because Alberta workers don’t always have the skills necessary for the job.
“I look at Calgary and I think about all the tech jobs that have been empty — they’ve been posted and waiting for it to be filled for quite a while.
“What that tells me is that we still are not necessarily focused also on the right programs within post-secondary.”
The Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers (EMCN) helps settle newcomers in the capital region and senior manager of settlement services Rispah Tremblay said the announcement introduces some challenges for other agencies.
“With increasing numbers, that also needs additional resources,” said Tremblay.
Tremblay said EMCN would need more funding to pay staff who manage cases, help find housing and teach languages to clients.
Without these staff members helping newcomers settle, they might not be able to transition into the Canadian labour force.
“It’s really important that as soon as they land here, there’s additional support for them to settle and get the right training or the right support that they need so that they’re able to integrate and start working immediately,” she said.
Tremblay is also concerned that the housing supply may start to dry up with the influx of people moving here. She hasn’t heard anything from the federal government in terms of cash to support scaling up services, but thinks those conversations will start in the spring.
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