North Okanagan immigration pilot project expanding to the Shuswap

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Immigration pilot project expands to the Shuswap
WATCH: A pilot program that aims to attract skilled immigrants to smaller communities has expanded to the Shuswap. As Megan Turcato reports, the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot Project already has a strong track record of helping fill labour gaps in the North Okanagan – Feb 6, 2023

With the help of new funding, a pilot program that aims to attract skilled immigrants to smaller communities across Canada has expanded to the Shuswap.

The Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) project already has a strong track record of helping fill labour gaps in the North Okanagan.

For example, Kingfisher Boats near Vernon, B.C. has filled eight positions through the program hiring for everything from welders to the role of chief operating officer.

Kingfisher’s chief HR officer Sarah Gregory said the company has been feeling the impact of the labour shortage.

“When we are looking for skilled labour to be able to work on our boats we just aren’t getting the applicants at this point,” said Gregory.

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“Really what the rural immigration program has done is allowed us to expand our footprint and really look to the world to see who is skilled and who can help build our boats for us.”

Without the program, the business would have been limited by the number of available workers.

“One of the things right now in the recreational boat industry is that the demand is still very very large,” Gregory said.

“What it has done is allowed us to meet the needs of our customers and meet the demand of the market.”

Assembly technician Sandro Araujo is among the skilled workers who have taken jobs at Kingfisher.

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Originally from Brazil, Araujo was living and working in the South Okanagan when he heard about the RNIP program, which would put him on a fast track to permanent residency.

So he decided to apply for the job at Kingfisher.

Araujo said not facing a long wait for permanent residency means a lot to his family.

“I saw they are processing RNIP very fast. We came in to Vernon for the first time to visit Vernon and we fell in love with such a beautiful town and decided to stay here,” Araujo said.

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Araujo and his family are now planning a future in Vernon,  a future that would have been less certain without the pilot project.

“We are planning to stay long term for sure because we like the town, I would like to stay [at] Kingfisher, I think it is a good company to grow [with],” Araujo said.

As of October, that opportunity for fast-tracked permanent residency is now also being offered to skilled workers looking to settle in the Shuswap.

Last week a federal government economic development agency called PacificCan, announced $485,000 in funding for Community Futures North Okanagan to expand the program. Part of that money is being used to bring the pilot project to the Shuswap.

Community Futures North Okanagan, executive director Leigha Horsfield said the program brings a significant benefit to the community as it struggles with a labour shortage.

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“The benefit for the community is reduced wait times to get our blood drawn, having a tile setter that can tile our floors, having someone take care of our elderly parents,” Horsfield said.

Horsfield pointed out the Vernon area doesn’t have high labour force participation rates.

As of the 2021 census, 56.7 of residents 15 years old and up participated in the labour force.

“Local businesses have said of all the immigration programs that they have participated in this is by far the easiest to apply for and they have been thrilled with the skill set that has come from engaging newcomers,” Horsfield said.

The pilot project is set to run for one more year.

Community Futures North Okanagan is hoping it will eventually become permanent.

The North Okanagan/Shuswap area is one of 11 areas across the country where the pilot is being trialed.

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