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Hire a newcomer, business execs told at immigration forum

Nova Scotians need to do more welcoming and more hiring, immigration summit hears

4 min read
caption Minister Lena Diab says new online application for immigrants is just a small step in the right direction
Sindi Skenderi
Minister Lena Diab says new online application for immigrants is just a small step in the right direction
caption Minister Lena Diab says new online application for immigrants is just a small step in the right direction
Sindi Skenderi

Nova Scotia has to start hiring more newcomers. That was the consensus at the province’s Immigration Summit at Pier 21 on Tuesday.

In a room filled with business executives, municipal workers, community leaders and institutional representatives, the talk was centred around how to enhance immigration in Nova Scotia and why the province is unable to make immigrants stay.

Kelly Bennett, a speaker at the summit, said it’s because Nova Scotians are friendly, “but not always welcoming.”

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Bennett and her colleague took on an initiative, called Community Conversation, where they travelled through the province to find out why immigrants aren’t staying in Nova Scotia and aren’t settling down.

She found that sometimes communities are tightly knit and “closed off to different cultures.” She said they heard many stories of struggle, of challenge and “of difficulty navigating those first few weeks, or months or years.”

Her proposition for solving this issue: have employers hire more immigrants and create new programs in communities for them to feel welcome.

Struggles of international students

The perception that Nova Scotians are “friendly, but not welcoming” was a popular one during the conference. Paula Mercer, a guest speaker from Mount St. Vincent University, agreed with it.

During her time working at the university, she saw how comfortable international students are with the province, because they’re involved in co-ops, in internships, in placements, etc.

“There are a lot of things going on [for them],” she said, but added that she doesn’t see the same opportunities for immigrants in the area.

Panel of higher education representatives, Paula Mercer on far right
caption Panel of higher education representatives, Paula Mercer on far right.
Sindi Skenderi

New immigrants tend to feel isolated due to the lack of a central hub where they can meet people, or ways to easily get information.

“They just don’t have the same kind of connection,” said Mercer.

But Mercer said even after they finish school and are integrated into the community they have a hard time receiving a work permit.

“The processing time for a student to receive a graduate work permit is 145 days,” said Mercer. This means that anyone who graduated and applied to receive a work permit this summer has yet to get one and has yet to start working. “It’s appalling.”

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Diverse hiring brings benefits

Saeed El Darahali, a member of the OneNS Coalition, an initiative that helps the Nova Scotia Commission build the province’s economy, addressed the issue of employers not hiring newcomers. He said considering immigrants needs to be integrated into every hiring process, because a lot of newcomers have extensive credentials from back home that would be a huge benefit to their jobs.

“Newcomers enrich our province,” said Darahali, adding that they also bring benefits to the economy.

But he believes it’s not the executives who don’t want the newcomers to work in their companies, it’s the middle-managers. While the executives don’t oppose diverse hiring, the middle-managers sometimes take it upon themselves.

“What I want you to do as executives is talk to the managers and say, ‘Look, I want you to put an concerted effort to hire people that are from away – hire somebody that’s a newcomer’,” said Darahali to the tables of company executives in front of him.

Keeping international students here after they graduate and enticing immigrants to stay by giving them employment is a good tactic and can work, but federal regulations sometimes make it more difficult.

Keith Brown, vice-president of International Affairs at Cape Breton University, said provincial ministers have to convince Canada’s federal government to reduce visa processing and visa acceptance times for immigrants and international students.

“We are far, far, far behind our main competitors in the United States. They are getting better and we are getting worse – we’re losing ground every day,” said Brown.

For the time being, the province’s immigration department has implemented an online process for applying to work in the province

Immigration Minister Lena Diab believes that even if it’s only a small step, it will make a difference.

“We want to make it easier for people to apply to us,” she said. “To know that Nova Scotia is on the ball.”

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