Thank you, Mr. Chair.
It's an honour and a privilege to be here in front of your committee. A special shout-out to my own MP, MP Arseneault, as well as our New Brunswick MP, Alaina Lockhart, and also to my colleague from P.E.I., Minister Gallant.
Our government is working on some very important immigration initiatives, and I'm looking forward to speaking about them today. As a government, we are focused on creating the right conditions for New Brunswickers to thrive and for the private sector to create jobs and grow the economy.
New Brunswick is a small province and we have an aging population. This is amplified by significant youth outmigration and a decrease in natural population growth, with deaths now surpassing births in the province. The 2016 census highlighted our declining population, with New Brunswick being the only province or territory to record a population drop from 2011 to 2016. Recent research suggests that low or negative population growth is expected across most areas of the province except Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton.
People leaving New Brunswick for other provinces continues to be a primary reason for low or negative population growth rates, especially in rural areas. This is closely tied to unemployment in New Brunswick while boosting the economies of other provinces.
Going forward, immigration will continue to be a strong driver for offsetting these negative population growth trends. We need more people to build our workforce and create a better future in New Brunswick.
NBjobs regularly has 3,500 to 4,000 job postings for skilled labour throughout the province. According to recent LMI projections, over 9,000 jobs may need to be filled through immigration over the next five years, 2017 to 2021.
That is why our government is committed to increasing the number of immigrants to our province. Historically, immigration to New Brunswick has been concentrated through our provincial nominee program, the PNP. Through the PNP, we're able to attract skilled workers and business immigrants who intend to settle, work, and raise a family in New Brunswick.
It is also very important to welcome new French-speaking arrivals in order to maintain our linguistic balance. For that reason, we are sparing no effort to attract and retain francophone immigrants who want to settle and work in New Brunswick. For example, we are the first province in the country to sign an immigration agreement with the Trudeau government and, under the terms of that agreement, we are the first province outside Quebec to establish a francophone core. It is a first in the country.
In 2016, we exceeded our francophone immigration objective, reaching 24% of the total number of francophone immigrants, thanks to the New Brunswick Provincial Nominee Program. Our long-term objective is 33%.
In March 2017, New Brunswick hosted the very first Forum sur l'immigration francophone. During this historic event, the ministers responsible for immigration and the francophonie in Canada came together to discuss possible areas of cooperation with a view to encouraging francophone immigration outside Quebec.
We are currently preparing to launch a renewed entrepreneur immigration stream that will focus on increased business immigration to the province. To further our business immigration efforts, the province will continue to support our innovative business immigrant mentorship program and la Ruche, the Hive, a centre that provides business immigrants with the tools necessary to establish a business and successfully settle in the province.
In conjunction with our business immigrant mentorship programs, the province is piloting a succession connect program in Fredericton that will connect business immigrants with businesses for sale in New Brunswick.
Our government believes it is essential to support settlement initiatives that assist with the integration and retention of newcomers in communities throughout New Brunswick. We currently have 13 service provider organizations across New Brunswick. This ensures that newcomers have access to settlement services in communities throughout the province.
It is important to encourage newcomer participation in our provincial labour force and to show all New Brunswickers the value and benefits of a diverse and multicultural society. We believe in inclusive communities, support for all New Brunswick families, and investing in culture.
Recent public opinion research produced by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada shows that residents of Atlantic Canada express more positive views on immigration and refugees compared to other regions of Canada. New Brunswick is proud to have supported the federal government's Syrian refugee initiative last year, welcoming over 1,500 Syrians to the province, the most per capita in the country. New Brunswick resettled more Syrian refugees per capita than any other province in Canada.
It is important to maintain this momentum moving forward to continue to create welcoming communities for all newcomers, and to increase the number of new immigrants coming to New Brunswick.
As a part of this push for more immigration, New Brunswick played a key role in establishing the Atlantic growth strategy and negotiating the Atlantic immigration pilot, advocating for an Atlantic-wide strategy on immigration early on. Through the new Atlantic immigration pilot, the province will leverage growth opportunities to increase immigration and retain newcomers in New Brunswick.
With the program, we have the potential to double the number of economic immigrants coming to New Brunswick. The province is expected to welcome an additional 646 families. The province has increased its focus on employer engagement and retention. Employers in New Brunswick have shown great interest in using immigration as a tool to meet their labour market needs. Now more than ever, we are working with employers in the province in key sectors to recruit skilled workers that meet their labour market needs.
To this end, 200 employers have shown interest in the pilot in New Brunswick with over 140 employers submitting designation applications resulting in over 1,400 job opportunities. Our current retention rate is 72%, and we are looking to increase this to 80% with concentrated integration and retention efforts.
To support these efforts, our government allocated an additional $2.5 million for pilot project related activities including increased employer engagement and support for settlement services. We have also launched a public awareness campaign, “We are all NB”, to educate all New Brunswickers on our current demographic and skilled labour challenges, and on the benefits of immigration and creating welcoming communities to alleviate this situation.
New Brunswick is looking forward to the many opportunities that this new pilot presents including those offered by the pilot's international graduate stream, which will help our post-secondary education institutions attract and retain more international students to the province.
Our government's increased focus on international students has led to several new initiatives including enhanced engagement with universities and colleges to discuss immigration opportunities, a new language training service in Moncton specific to the needs of international students, and the new international student entrepreneur stream under the provincial nominee program that will encourage students to settle and start a business in the province.
Although there is no simple solution to address the demographic challenges facing our province, we believe we have made significant progress and want to continue to encourage immigration growth to New Brunswick.
Particularly, we are reassured by our recent growth in immigration allocations and wish to continue to see allocation increases in future that will meet the labour market demands of New Brunswick employers. It is important that, with these allocation increases, we as a province continue to focus on the important aspects of settlement and retention.
Going forward, by encouraging newcomers to settle in New Brunswick, we will accomplish our goal of creating jobs, growing the economy and making New Brunswick the best place to live, work, and raise a family.
To see our progress first-hand, we welcome you all to come to New Brunswick to learn more about our immigration efforts.
We thank you for your time.