Canada’s Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) is a community-driven program, according to a recent media release from the federal government. It’s designed to spread the benefits of economic immigration to smaller communities by creating a path to permanent residence for skilled foreign workers who want to work and live in one of the participating communities, which includes Claresholm.

RNIP is partnering with these communities to test new approaches to use immigration to help meet local labour market needs and support regional economic development and to create welcoming environments to support new immigrants staying in rural communities.

This pilot will help increase long-term retention of skilled newcomers to rural areas by working with community-based partners, other federal government partners and provincial and territorial governments.

Pilot communities were selected based on their economic need for immigration, the resources and community partners in place to administer the pilot and whether the federal government has existing newcomer settlement partners and resources in the community.

Town of Claresholm Economic Development Officer (EDO) Brady Schnell said the program was actually first brought to his attention by a business owner in the community who was interested in applying.

“After investigating and after looking at what the program meant, I saw it was going to fill a need we really did have,” he said.

In 2018, Schnell noted he went out and pounded the pavement and met with local small, medium and large business owners — as part of a town business visitation program in Claresholm.

“They identified they have a consistent problem filling their staff and some of these larger facilities have never been able to run at full capacity. They say they have a hard time keeping good people and they always have jobs available,” he explained.

When the RNIP program was announced, Schnell thought it would be a good way to fill that need. “Maybe we could attract some of the right people.”

Claresholm, Schnell said, will be a part of the program’s second round — in terms of launching. Schnell’s training will begin in the fall and the program will begin in January 2020.

What’s really important is having the right people lined up with the right job, Schnell said. “Nobody will come without the endorsement of the Economic Development Committee. The credentials for that endorsement are something we’re going to figure out in the coming months.”

Schnell said the committee will first reach out to the employers once again to see what jobs are available in the community. “Are those jobs appropriate? Are they long-term? Have they tried to fill it locally?”

As for the potential employee — Do they have financial financial stability? Maybe they have family in the area? Maybe they come from a rural area? That would be another check mark. If they meet all those credentials, then we would recommend them to be relocated to Claresholm,” added Schnell.

As Schnell understands, a potential employee could be a newcomer to Canada — who has applied from their country or it could be someone who is already in Canada on another worker program.

“Maybe they’re under-employed or maybe they’re not happy in the environment they are in, so they see Claresholm as a better choice. They could essentially enter into our program,” he said.

Unfortunately, there are many negative connotations out there regarding the word “immigrant,” Schnell noted. “Some people hear it and they think refugee or they think people escaping negative situations. We understand there’s some alarm out there with what does this mean? But, there’s a big education component, as part of this program. We want to educate the municipality before anyone arrives, so everybody understands why we’re doing this,” he said.

Schnell said the other thing the town wants residents to understand is this isn’t going to be an enormous amount of people. “It’s considered on an individual basis based on a very specific set of criteria.”

According to Schnell, Claresholm has already seen the success of immigration. “Companies like Tim Hortons or Watt and Stewart and others, even restaurants in town have been using temporary foreign worker programs for up to nine years. We’ve seen some newcomers to Canada who started out in retail food and now have become homeowners and run multiple businesses in the community and their kids go to the schools and they support the local industry. We’re just trying to repeat that success,” he said.

Schnell said a similar program initially started in the Atlantic provinces and has been running there for three years. “They have offered just over 3,000 jobs and 2,500 of them have been accepted. They just renewed that program for another two years. I think that kind of gives an indication of what we might see. Now, they’re launching it in Western Canada, as a result of that success. It’s exciting,” he said.

Claresholm, Schnell said, has a low unemployment rate, but in the last three months he has seen a sharp increase in the number of calls from medium and large-sized businesses looking for skilled employees.

 “Claresholm has new industrial land available and people in the city north of us are looking for a more affordable place to work and build their shops. I think this couldn’t come at a better time,” he said.

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