After two slow years during the pandemic, immigration to the Pembina Valley certainly picked up in 2022.
For Regional Connections, it was a record-setting year with 1,561 people coming from other countries to live in the region then becoming clients of the organization and accessing its services.
"That was the most we've had before. It was good to see after a couple of years of restrictions and things that slowed down immigration applications and travel," said Steve Reynolds, Executive Director. "It seemed like the system was working again and people were able to travel again."
According to year-end statistics supplied by Regional Connections, 633 of the new arrivals last year were primarily served out of the organization's Winkler office, 609 out of Morden, 214 out of Altona and 105 out of the Dauphin office. The top 5 countries of birth are Ukraine, Philipines, India, Nigeria and Germany. The top 5 first languages are Ukrainian, Russian, Tagalog, English and Punjabi. Of the 1,561 new arrivals, 946 were 18 years or older, and 615 under 18 years old.
In line with these figures, Reynolds explained the conflict in Ukraine was a big driver of immigration to the region.
"It would have been a normal pre-pandemic year for us, but in addition to that, over four hundred people arrived from Ukraine and so that really put things over the top."
The local labour market also played a role in higher immigration numbers last year, he noted. Over 80% of the clients at Regional Connections are Economic Immigrants, with the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) program run in Altona and the Municpality of Rhineland, a large contributor.
"It's a really great program, and things were also moving a little bit better there just because applications get processed a bit faster, people can travel and things are a bit more stable for businesses for planning, hiring and recruiting. It's a really strong program with a lot of local coordination, and so we're happy to be involved in that as well and have seen really positive outcomes with people coming and being happy to be here and being happy with the jobs they're getting through that program."
According to SEED, the local organization that oversees the RNIP program in Altona and Rhineland, there were 33 job offers provided in 2022 out of 71 since the program launched in 2019.
"Over the last year, we've seen a number of applicants arriving in the community. We've also seen the number of job offers increasing from employers as well. So, we've definitely seen a bit of a recovery post-COVID which, I think, has allowed applicants to be able to process their documentation a lot quicker, and also more economic stability for businesses to hire through the program," said SEED Economic Development Officer, Stephanie Harris.
Overall, Reynolds says credentials recognition continues to be one of the biggest obstacles that newcomers face when they arrive here, outside of the RNIP program. For many, he says they don't learn of the various barriers to becoming licensed or certified to work in their profession until they arrive.
"It's a bit of a missed opportunity," he noted. "Locally, we have a lot of qualified and skilled immigrants who, for example, love to be working in healthcare and they love living here, but are having a really hard time getting back into their careers."
While Regional Connections does offer a program that supports newcomers navigating through the certification process, Reynolds would like to see more solutions available but says that requires coordination from federal and provincial governments and regulatory bodies to work together and communicate well.
"Especially when we see all of the job openings and labour market openings, and difficulty keeping emergency rooms open when we know that there are skilled immigrants living in the communities who could be helping," he said.
For example, this challenge came up early for those who arrived from Ukraine in 2022, said Reynolds.
"Of course, it was an unplanned migration. It happened very suddenly. It's very reactive. People, at first, are just trying to keep their families safe and then figure everything out after. So, for people arriving to the Pembina Valley, that was very true," he explained. "That includes people arriving who are healthcare workers and would love to work in their field, and then just learn about credentials after they arrive."
According to a survey of Regional Connections clients who arrived in August and September from Ukraine, about 95% hope to stay long-term in the communities they are in.
"Quite a few of the people who immigrated here from Ukraine have personal connections in the region with friends or family already living here" explained Reynolds. "So they know what the Pembina Valley is and where we are, and they came here intentionally. And so, a lot of people, no matter what happens with the conflict in Ukraine, it was kind of the tipping point, I think, for a lot of families who, once they decided to make that move and come here, they hope this is long-term now."
Meantime, the influx in new arrivals to the area resulted in good use of Regional Connections' services including its settlement program, and various English classes. Additionally, the organization offers an adult literacy program and employment services available to all residents of the Pembina Valley.