Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the invitation to speak to the committee today.
As noted, my name is Laurie Hunter, and I'm the director of the economic policy and programs division at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. With me today are Corinne Prince and Ümit Kiziltan.
Atlantic Canada faces a number of demographic challenges shaped by declining fertility rates and a long-standing trend of young residents leaving the region to settle and work elsewhere. Recently released census data indicates that the population of Atlantic Canada is declining in the 15-to-64 age range and increasing in the number of senior citizens. Atlantic Canadian provinces also face a number of challenges in attracting and retaining immigrants, who could help to mitigate these demographic challenges.
In 2014, 6.7% of the Canadian population lived in Atlantic Canada, but the region welcomed only 3.1% of new immigrants.
Given demographic and statistical realities in the region, your committee's study on this issue is timely.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, or IRCC, recognizes that immigration is important in supporting economic growth, and there is a desire to see more immigrants settle and stay there.
That is why, in partnership with the Atlantic provinces and as part of the Atlantic growth strategy, IRCC recently launched the Atlantic immigration pilot.
It provides a pathway to permanent immigration under three different programs: the Atlantic intermediate-skilled program, the Atlantic high-skilled program, and the Atlantic international graduate program. The pilot offers priority processing for permanent residence applications and does not require participating employers to get a labour market impact assessment for jobs offered to skilled workers or international graduates under these new pilot programs. It draws on enhanced coordination to identify regional labour market needs and to endorse candidates who meet these needs.
Under the pilot, every principal applicant will arrive in Atlantic Canada with a job offer and an individual settlement plan both for themselves and for their accompanying family members, which will connect them to services known to support successful integration. Importantly, the pilot will test forward-looking approaches to settlement service delivery, together with a commitment from employers to foster welcoming workplaces and support settlement needs of newcomer employees and their families.
On March 6, we opened application intake, with a commitment to process up to 2,000 applications for principal applicants and accompanying family members in 2017. To date, more than 250 employers in the region have been designated to take part in the pilot.
IRCC has other programs that also benefit Atlantic Canada. For instance, under the provincial nominee program, or PNP, participating provinces and territories develop economic immigration streams tailored to their labour market needs and nominate candidates on the basis of their ability to contribute to their regional economies. It has contributed to higher numbers of immigrants arriving in Atlantic Canada in recent years. For example, in 2005, only 1.5% of new immigrants to Canada were destined for any of the Atlantic provinces. By 2014, that percentage had more than doubled to 3.1%.
The express entry program is Canada's flagship application management system for key economic immigration programs that attract high-skilled foreign workers who want to live in Canada. I would like to highlight some recent changes to express entry that will be of interest to your committee because of their relevance to Atlantic Canada.
As of November 19, 2016, candidates working in Canada temporarily who are exempt from meeting a labour market impact assessment, LMIA, for their jobs will be able to carry over that exemption in express entry. This will help smooth the transition from temporary to permanent residence for many high-skilled candidates.
Also as of November 2016, additional points are awarded to candidates if they have completed education in Canada above the high school level. This is important given the number of high-quality post-secondary institutions in Atlantic Canada. International graduates are a key source of candidates in express entry because of their age, education, skills, experience with life in Canada, and established social networks.
As well, IRCC recently launched a new LMIA exemption stream of the international mobility program called Mobilité francophone.
The high-skilled workers in this new stream will be able to acquire valuable Canadian work experience, and then may benefit from the exemption from needing an LMIA for their permanent job offer to get additional points in Express Entry.
Also, starting on June 6, 2017, Express Entry candidates with strong French language skills, with or without English language skills, will be awarded additional points.
These important changes can help grow francophone minority communities across Canada, including Atlantic Canada.
The provincial nominee program is also a potential avenue to permanent residency for French-speaking newcomers to the region, which has a large number of francophone minority communities.
In conclusion, Mr. Chair, I would like to reiterate that IRCC is acutely aware of the need for and interest in improving immigration to Atlantic Canada. IRCC welcomes your study and looks forward to reading your final report.
We can now take questions from the committee.