The Higher ED Blog: Immigrant attraction to small and rural centres
Michelle Madden / December 7, 2015
Most people have heard by now that Canada will be receiving 25,000 Syrian refugees over the coming months. About half are privately sponsored and will go to a variety of destinations. The other half are government sponsored and will settle in 36 destination cities and in temporary accommodations, including military bases, across the country. Once the refugees are more settled and oriented to the country, then they will be mobile and free to move where they like. While most will likely choose to settle in larger centres, there is an opportunity for small and rural centres to attract them, and other immigrants as well.
There are lots of good reasons to welcome immigrants, including many economic reasons. Immigrants are generally well educated and have lots to offer local economies. A study by the Halifax Partnership found that immigrants supplement the labour pool as the domestic population ages and outmigrates, have no negative impact on unemployment rates, are twice as likely to start a business, are more likely to run export-oriented businesses, and do not disproportionately take advantage of social services and supports.
While Halifax is not a major Canadian city, it is certainly not small or rural either with a population just under 400,000. A paper written for the Economic Development Program’s Year 3 course by Margot Bégin offers insight into the impact of immigration attraction and retention efforts of a truly small community. Immigrant settlement in rural Nova Scotia: Impacting the location decisions of newcomers reviews the efforts of the Colchester Region of Nova Scotia (population 51,000), which Margot led as the then-Director of Workforce and People Development with the Colchester Regional Development Agency (CoRDA).
CoRDA’s strategy was based on research indicating that migration decisions of immigrants are influenced by the location of family and friends, pre-migration perceptions about the area, and employment or business prospects. With this knowledge in mind, CoRDA harnessed the social connections of current local immigrants, and increased awareness of Colchester by reaching out to potential immigrants via international immigration fairs and domestic career fairs that targeted newcomer populations. Most importantly, the Region committed to having a dedicated point person who would be available to respond to questions, provide guidance in navigating the immigration process and help forge connections to employment or business opportunities through personal introductions.
The programming, which started in 2003, resulted in a larger than average increase in immigration in the 2001-2006 census period. As of 2006, Colchester had immigrants from more than 40 countries, though most were from the UK, Lebanon, and Iran.
To learn more about the decision making process of newcomers, Margot surveyed 26 immigrant clients of CoRDA at various stages of the immigration process. She found that the presence of family or friends in the community was the most important factor, followed by the availability of employment or business opportunities and pre-migration perceptions. Lifestyle factors were also important, and four respondents even said they would work outside their current field in order to live in the community and provide a better life for their families. Interestingly, all respondents highlighted the impact of CoRDA’s support through the immigration process, stating that Colchester would not have been a contender without that lifeline. In considering all of these results, it’s worth noting that most of the respondents were English speaking and needed little settlement support.
Once immigrants are settled, attention needs to turn to retention. Small and rural areas are at a disadvantage in this respect, as they typically lack dedicated services for immigrants and have small or non-existent ethnic communities. It’s also common for residents of rural communities to keep immigrants from different cultures at arm’s length, leading the immigrant to feel socially isolated. To overcome these challenges, Colchester has worked to make use of existing service providers and build a network of supportive community volunteers. In the absence of a dedicated settlement agency, volunteers are able to fill important roles such as language tutor or business mentor that not only build capacity, but also become the basis of strong social connections. These social connections have a significant impact on retention.
Colchester has successfully increased its immigrant population via a targeted immigration attraction strategy. Other communities looking to do the same should first consider whether immigrants will help them reach their growth and development goals, and whether locals will be welcoming. Second, there needs to be some kind of settlement support program in place that will help potential immigrants navigate the immigration system, provide information about the community, find work, and get language training. Third, tapping into the social networks of settled immigrants can be very effective, so long as they have positive perceptions of the community. In the latter years of CoRDA’s Immigrant attraction efforts, the financial investment required for marketing was minimal due to a steady pipeline of prospective newcomers who were responding to positive word-of-mouth generated by the initial cohorts of successful and happy newcomers. All-in-all, Colchester has proven that small and rural areas can be active players in immigrant attraction, and rebuild their shrinking workforces with newcomers.
About the authors
Michelle Madden is the editor of Higher ED. She is also the Outreach Manager for the Economic Development Program and a graduate of the LED master’s program. She has authored a number of the articles in this series on behalf of the students, and has published several of her own blogs on economicdevelopment.org as well. Follow her on Twitter at @michelle_mad.
Margot Bégin recently accepted the position of Executive Director of the Battle River Alliance for Economic Development in Eastern Alberta. She also serves as a Director on the Board of the Economic Developers Association of Canada. She is passionate about harnessing the energy of small and rural communities and building their capacity to participate in the global economy.
About the series
Higher ED: Insights for the Next Economy is a platform for students, guest speakers, staff and faculty of the University of Waterloo’s professional and graduate economic development programs to share knowledge with the field at large. The series takes works destined for an academic audience and reworks them into a fresh, easy-to-digest blog article.
Established in 1988, the Local Economic Development program is the only master’s program in Canada devoted solely to local economic development. It offers a balance between theory and practice by combining coursework, a major research paper, an internship, and weekly seminars featuring guest speakers. Students are prepared for careers in local, community, or regional economic development.
The Economic Development Program is a nationally-accredited provider of professional training. It delivers certification programs and seminars that offer a deep understanding of the Canadian context in a convenient block format. Peer learning is combined with informative lectures and practical case studies to provide dynamic instruction that is beneficial for junior and senior-level practitioners.