The West Kootenay Immigration pilot has received the Community Futures of BC award of excellence and innovation by building a program designed to address labour shortages in the region.
“The pilot is to help support immigration to our region,” says Erin Rooney, regional coordinator. “We want to attract people to work here, but also to stay here after getting permanent residency.”
She says since the pilot’s launch in 2020 more than 120 West Kootenay employers have accessed the program to get workers in fields like healthcare, trades, transportation, professional services, but the major one is hospitality.
“We have helped more than 250 workers get permanent residency through this program,” she says. “Most of the workers are Selkirk international students, but we are taking some from overseas who want to move here.”
Rooney says with the shortage of skilled labour in several trades throughout the region it is imperative that efforts be taken to retain these workers within the small market versus a large one like Vancouver.
“The question is how do we make these people feel comfortable?” she says. “In a rural area we need skilled workers badly, and we want to see skilled labor diversified in Canada.”
She says while any immigrant can apply for the program there is a process that they need to follow to be approved, or considered before being selected.
“To apply to the pilot you need to go through a recommendation process,” she says. “We have a hearing committee that meets monthly on who to recommend. Then they can apply for permanent residency if they get approved.”
She says applicants have been processed for permanent residency through the program as quickly as a few months, but generally it takes one year before they get it.
According to a media release, the pilot program launched in 2020 just before the pandemic and was set to end in 2022 but has been extended to 2024.
The pilot program is delivered by Community Futures Central Kootenay with support from the BC’s Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction of the Economic Trust of the Southern Interior of BC.