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EDITORIAL: Immigration is good for P.E.I.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen speaks at an announcement in Charlottetown on Wednesday morning. Hussen announced that an office of his department, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, will be reopening in Charlottetown.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen speaks at an announcement in Charlottetown on March 6. Hussen announced that an office of his department, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, will be reopening in Charlottetown. - Stu Neatby

The federal government has finally come to its senses and realized that an immigration office needs to be reopened on P.E.I.

And with the province’s growing immigration population, reopening the office after seven years is long overdue.

The previous Charlottetown immigration office was closed in 2012 by the governing Conservative Party of Canada and then-immigration minister Jason Kenney.

In hindsight, it was an odd move, especially given the importance of immigration to our culture and economy.

Even so, we shouldn’t be giving the federal Liberals too much credit for righting this wrong. After all, they’ve been in power since 2015, and are only getting around to addressing the issue now, and with an election on the horizon.

A date to reopen the immigration office hasn’t been set.

Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen admitted at the March 6 announcement that the revived office won’t be offering direct support services for incoming international students at Holland College or UPEI, except for those who apply for the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Project. The pilot project provides support for employers wanting to hire foreign skilled workers and graduating international students.

The point is when the office does reopen (with up to four immigration officers), newcomers won’t have to make the costly and inconvenient trip off-Island to Halifax for settlement services, citizenship testing and permanent residency services.

The impact immigration has had on the P.E.I. economy is evident by what has been accomplished without an immigration office.

Recently, Atlantic Beef Products in Albany has hired around 200 new Canadians since 2013. Many have received their Canadian residence status. Some have bought homes and re-located their families to live with them.

Aspin Kemp and Associates also has 90 international employees at its Montague office.

These newcomers are filling job vacancies and contributing to the economy. They are also enriching all us of by making the province more culturally diverse.

An ongoing concern for the province is out-migration and finding ways to retain our younger, homegrown talent.

But concerns have also been raised about the Island’s ability to retain newcomers.

As pointed out by the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council’s January report card (Atlantic Canada’s Shrinking Labour Force) immigration has helped the Island’s labour force grow by two per cent since 2012.

But the report also points out that Island has only retained 16 per cent of its newcomers five years after arriving in 2011.

If retention rates are going to improve, APEC says the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Project is important to achieve this goal, not just on P.E.I. but in Atlantic Canada.

But for the Island, reopening an immigration office can only help retain newcomers.

It sends a positive message that we are committed to supporting newcomers and that they are an important factor in our economy and way of life.

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