Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and committee members. I'm pleased to be here with my colleagues to provide information on the rural and northern immigration pilot.
We have a presentation that will brief the committee on the approach and design of the new pilot. I believe it has been circulated in both languages. As honourable members may also be aware, the minister announced this past Friday the 11 communities that have been selected to participate in the pilot. This followed an open call-out to communities that ran from January to March earlier this year. We also provided copies of the press release for that announcement, so that committee members could have that for reference as well.
First, I'd like to start with the overall context for the pilot. As the committee is aware, rural and northern Canada offers important opportunities and benefits for Canada's economy. However, economic and demographic shifts in Canada are felt more acutely in rural areas, which can hinder their ability to seize economic opportunities. While part of the issue is certainly domestic out-migration of youth and other populations to urban centres, another part is that rural and remote areas have traditionally not benefited from immigration to the same extent as larger cities.
Immigration helps Canada's labour force continue to grow each year, and will account for up to 80% of labour force growth nationally by the end of the decade. Programs such as the provincial nominee program have been successful in spreading the economic benefits of immigration across the country. The ratio of immigrants landing outside our three largest provinces grew fourfold from 1997, with the first provincial nominee program, to 2017, thanks in part to significant growth in this program. However, a large majority of immigrants still do not settle in rural and remote areas. In 2017, almost four out of five new immigrants settled in Canada's 10 largest cities.
The rural and northern immigration pilot is really designed to address these trends that we see. It's clear that rural and northern Canada has much to offer newcomers, including career opportunities, a positive quality of life and a welcoming community. It's equally clear that there are opportunities for rural and northern communities to benefit from immigration, to grow their local labour force, to sustain and enhance community services by growing the tax base, and to seize economic opportunities for growth.
While many of our immigration pathways, including express entry and the provincial nominee program, can already be used by all immigrants, employers and communities of all sizes to attract and retain immigrants, the pilot will be using a new community-driven approach to empower communities to identify the newcomers most likely to economically prosper and develop roots in their community, and then to stay there in the long run with their families.
We'll explain a bit later in the presentation what this community-driven approach looks like.
Community-based supports will be developed with community partners to promote employment opportunities and to encourage the integration and retention of newcomers and their families. This approach was chosen to encourage immigration to smaller centres and to give communities the necessary tools to play an active role in immigration. It requires testing with new partnerships.
On slide 4, I'll explain a bit more about what we mean by new partnerships. As noted earlier, to select communities we posted a call-out for communities to express their interest in participating.
To be eligible, communities had to meet the economic, geographic and settlement criteria that are detailed on this slide here.
The pilot won't apply to the Atlantic provinces, which are already participating in the Atlantic immigration pilot, nor to Quebec, which is responsible for selecting permanent immigrants in the economic category.
The pilot criteria were intended to reflect the goals of the pilot, including an approach that considered local economic development hand in hand with immigration and integration needs. Requirements included having an economic development plan—each community had to have an economic development plan—and clear job opportunities for newcomers, which would contribute to their local economy and strategic economic interests. The call-out also asked communities about themselves, about their sectoral and employment opportunities, their schools and community infrastructure, and why they wished to participate in this pilot.
While we received over 50 applications, only a select number of communities could be chosen, given the pilot nature of this initiative and the targeted approach we proposed. Consultations were undertaken with provincial and territorial partners, regional development agencies and other government departments, all who brought regional, economic or sectoral expertise to this process. Considerations also included departmental priorities—for example, the desire to increase francophone immigration—and other factors such as sectoral impact, the size and diversity of communities, as well as geographic distribution across the country.
I'll move now to slide 5.
The government will work directly with the selected communities to help them attract permanent residence applicants who best meet their unique economic development and labour force needs.
We will also help communities prepare for new immigrants as a partner with local service providers, employers and others to provide settlement services that foster welcoming communities and encourage long-term retention. This will include providing space in our levels plan for economic immigration for this pilot. This new pilot offers a pathway that communities can use to attract new immigrants. The department itself will be providing training as well as a dedicated service channel to help communities navigate the immigration process. We also provide, as part of this pilot, that connection into the government, both federally and provincially, and connection to different agencies and departments who can provide their own expertise as well. This tailored approach will test how matching immigrants to meaningful economic opportunity and providing them and their families with settlement support encourages the attraction and attention of newcomers to smaller centres and keeps them there.
Let's move on to the next slide.
The pilot seeks to achieve one objective of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which is to promote the benefits of immigration across Canada.
Given the experimental nature of the pilot and how the program will run in the community, participants will be asked to collect data to assess the pilot's performance. The lessons learned from the pilot and the Atlantic immigration pilot will be used to develop future immigration programs.
With this pilot as well as the Atlantic immigration pilot, we're really testing some new approaches here with immigration—economic immigration in particular—to see how we can promote retention in the long run and really grow local economies.
Slide 7 provides a bit of an overview of the program design. In the design, there would be two stages in the application process. In the first stage, the community endorsement stage, the community would be responsible and would be empowered to assess the community fit of the candidate. Each community would have its own endorsement factors, but these would be established in partnership with IRCC. We'd consider such things as the local immigration and economic priorities of that community and how the candidate fits with its strategic interests. The slide provides some examples of what could be considered there.
Second, federal criteria would apply. When the application comes to IRCC, we'd be looking at economic establishment in particular and at factors that support the longer-term economic success of immigrants in Canada. These can include minimum language and education criteria, the need for a full-time year-round job offer and the availability of settlement funds for the immigrant and their family. Of course, federally we'd also be assessing any admissibility criteria.
Slide 8 presents the role of community economic development organizations, as well as those expected of the other partners we are engaging with as part of this pilot. A key role of the local community economic development organizations who will be our partners in administering the pilot will be to convene and coordinate local actors with both an economic and labour market focus—this could include employers, local chambers of commerce and other partners—and to look at the settlement side of the integration process for this pilot. This might mean bringing together service provider organizations who deliver settlement services in the community or local immigrant partnerships who advise and coordinate around settlement services. Really, the core of it is trying to bring together that economic development opportunity lens with the settlement and integration lens as well.
Individual community members are also expected to play a very important role—i.e., volunteering to be matched with and to mentor newcomers. We think of this as a bit of a sponsor approach to economic immigrants, which we haven't really done before, to support their integration into the local community. We like to think of it as a bit of a buddy system. Provinces and territories have also been closely engaged throughout the development of this pilot. We'll continue to consult with them as we implement it. We'll be engaging with both provinces and territories as we reach out and help train our communities who have been selected to participate.
The federal government obviously plays an important role in this as well. It's not just our department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, but also our federal partners. Certainly, regional development agencies will be key partners in providing economic development expertise on how this pilot fits with broader strategic objectives around economic development for different regions. Departments such as Agriculture Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada have also been key partners as we have developed this pilot.
The next slide sets out the expected roles and responsibilities in more of a process flow. I won't go through it in detail, but it shows where partners can best apply the expertise that they will bring to this pilot throughout the design, delivery and monitoring stages.
The last slide shows the next steps in the implementation of the pilot.
The department and our partners will begin training and capacity preparedness with the selected community organizations shortly. This will continue throughout the summer and fall of this year. Once ready, community partners will implement their promotion and recruitment strategies and can begin to assess and endorse candidates for immigration into their communities. We don't expect landings under this pilot to happen until about 2020, just because of the time it will take to gear up communities to build the capacity to endorse candidates, and also because people need time to move to a new country.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to provide that brief overview of the pilot. My colleagues and I would be happy to take any questions from the committee.