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Nova Scotia’s immigrant support agencies ramp up services to meet booming demand

Province has been seeing record numbers of immigrants despite COVID-19

TL Johannesson, the general manager, child and youth, (back row centre, with glasses) is pictured with YMCA staff and participants. Her division is providing support for the growing population of newcomers at two locations in Halifax.

TL Johannesson, the general manager, child and youth, (back row centre, with glasses) is pictured with YMCA staff and participants. Her division is providing support for the growing population of newcomers at two locations in Halifax.

Photo: (YMCA of Greater Halifax/Dartmouth)

RCI

Immigrants are coming to Nova Scotia in record numbers and support organizations in the province have ramped up their capacity to meet demand.

The province said last month (new window) that 6,169 permanent residents arrived in Nova Scotia in the first 10 months of 2021. Even with the pandemic, the number by the end of the year was expected to exceed the previous record of 7,580 set in 2019.

Booming immigration and inter-provincial migration have led to Nova Scotia's population exceeding one million for the first time. (new window)

Although immigration is a federal responsibility, Nova Scotia has some say in encouraging immigration to the province through the nominee program, which targets certain types of workers, and the Atlantic Immigration Program (new window).

Jill Balser, Nova Scotia's labour and immigration minister, said an increase in immigration to the province brings genuine benefits. 

It's important to note that it's a planned population growth, she said. We're looking at the talent that's required ... to build our economy and grow our economy.

It's a sentiment shared by Jennifer Watts, the CEO of Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia. Watts said ISANS has been excited by the increasing number of immigrants coming to the province as it is important for the economic and social development of Nova Scotia. 

Immigration Minister Jill Balser said people moving to Nova Scotia from other countries or other parts of Canada are bringing ideas to the province.

Immigration Minister Jill Balser said people moving to Nova Scotia from other countries or other parts of Canada are bringing ideas to the province.

Photo:  CBC

She said immigrants are helping to make the province a more diverse and inclusive place. 

Balser said some immigrants are starting their own businesses while others are becoming part of the workforce.

The province and the Atlantic Immigration Program are working with employers to identify their needs, she said. Some areas identified that are now included in express entry categories are the hospitality industries, including restaurant workers, and the health-care sector. 

Balser said getting workers here is one thing but keeping them is equally important, so retention is a main area of focus. 

Communities need to welcome newcomers, she said, and the province is working with settlement agencies like ISANS and the YMCA to ensure that immigrants have the support they need.

Watts said ISANS provides a full range of services to immigrants.

"We offer resettlement programs and help people settle in and understand the community that they're living in, understand the Canadian school system and everything from how to use the transit system to a wide, wide variety of community resources," she said.

Language schools are another important emphasis at ISANS, she said, as well as helping people understand the Canadian job market and how to find employment.

Certification recognition

Getting professional qualifications recognized in Canada and getting Canadian certification is often a frustration for newcomers who often find their qualifications are not recognized (new window) in Canada.

Watts said her organization has been addressing the issue for more than a decade and Nova Scotia has pioneered work toward international qualification recognition. 

She said there is a multi-stakeholder working group which works with 13 professional bodies to identify barriers and then work closely with the relevant regulatory body.

Assessing needs

TL Johannesson, the general manager, child and youth, at the YMCA of Greater Halifax/ Dartmouth, said her division is providing support for the growing population of newcomers at two locations in Halifax. 

Part of the process of helping, she said, is communicating with newcomers.

We work together to make sure that we're meeting the specific community's needs., Johannesson said. We have some pretty intimate relationships with our newcomer population and our north-end residents.

In addition to after-school programs, leadership programs and recreation programs, Johannesson said, the YMCA also offers programs to teach people soft skills that will help them gain employment. 

The YMCA says it meets with newcomers to determine specific community needs.

The YMCA says it meets with newcomers to determine specific community needs.

Photo: (YMCA Greater Halifax)

She said the YMCA has some staff members who speak Somali, some that speak Arabic and some that speak French.

Most of the programs are free, she said, and there is a subsidy for those that cost money. No one is ever turned away, Johannesson said.

COVID-19

Both the YMCA and ISANS said they have the staffing capacity to handle the burgeoning immigrant numbers. 

While the pandemic has proven challenging at times, both organizations also said they have managed to work with the changing landscape of restrictions.

According to Watts, ISANS has always been involved in the virtual delivery of services so when COVID-19 hit they had the background and ability to switch to full-on virtual services.

She said virtual learning doesn't work for everyone so the organization continues to offer in-person services while working on developing programs to assist people in improving their digital skills. 

Johannesson said the YMCA has been able to pivot quickly to conform to public health measures.

She said they have become adept at quickly switching their programs to lower participant numbers or going virtual.

With Nova Scotia is aiming to double its population by 2060, encouraging immigration will continue to be a key strategy, according to Balser.

She said Nova Scotians should celebrate the fact that the province's population is continuing to grow. 

Embrace the fact that the population is growing, that newcomers are arriving in our province and they offer so much talent and diversity to our communities, she said.

Vernon Ramesar (new window) · CBC News 

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