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Atlantic Canada is experiencing an immigration revolution

Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick have experienced a nearly fourfold increase in immigration over last 20 years

Between 2011 and 2016, Atlantic Canada experienced the weakest population growth in the country. This was due in part to the region’s low intake of immigrants.  

Population growth is important to promoting the economic growth that is necessary for maintaining high living standards in Atlantic Canada. Recognizing this, the four Atlantic provinces — Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick — are making significant efforts to welcome and retain more newcomers.

These efforts are already bearing fruit as the region has recently enjoyed much-needed population growth thanks to higher immigration levels.

Tracking toward 6.5 per cent of Canada’s immigrants

Atlantic Canada comprises 6.5 per cent of Canada’s population but has struggled to attract its proportionate share of the country’s newcomers. In the early 2000s, the region was only able to attract one per cent of newcomers.

This is improving, however, and the region is currently on track to increase its newcomer share to five per cent in 2019. (See Chart 1). It is now welcoming more than 14,000 newcomers annually compared with just 3,000 two decades ago.

This growth should be celebrated, but more work remains. With the exception of PEI, the other three Atlantic provinces still lag the national per capita newcomer intake. (See Table 2).

Nevertheless, the current trends suggest the region could welcome its proportionate share of Canada’s newcomers sometime in the 2020s.

Chart 1: Immigrant arrivals by Atlantic Province (L) and as a percentage share of total immigration to Canada (R), 1999 to 2019

AIP & PNP have fueled immigration growth

Just like in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Atlantic Canada has depended on the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) to fuel its rising immigration levels.

The PNP was launched in 1999 to help smaller provinces and territories attract more newcomers. New Brunswick was the first province in Canada’s Atlantic region to adopt the PNP, doing so the same year it launched and Newfoundland and Labrador followed shortly after (See Table 2). PEI and Nova Scotia were the next to join, in 2001 and 2003, respectively.

In 2017, the Atlantic Immigration Pilot (AIP) was introduced to give the region an extra tool for attracting more economic class newcomers. Since then, nearly 4,200 newcomers have gained permanent residence through the AIP.

Newfoundland and Labrador: AIP & PNP account for 80% of newcomer arrivals in 2019

Newfoundland and Labrador has already welcomed more newcomers under the AIP this year than in 2018. (See Chart 2).

Combined with the PNP, Newfoundland and Labrador is on track this year to “substantially” surpass the immigration target that it had established for 2022.

Both the AIP and PNP now account for the majority of all immigrants arriving in the province. This underscores just how important the programs are in supporting Newfoundland and Labrador’s efforts to promote economic development through immigration.

Chart 2: Newfoundland and Labrador’s AIP and PNP intake (L) and AIP/PNP share of newcomers (R)

PEI: Dip in PNP arrivals being offset by AIP

In recent years, the PNP has accounted for around 90 per cent of all new immigrants to PEI. The province’s PNP intake decreased in 2018 and preliminary 2019 data suggests it will not recover to 2017 levels.

This dip, however, is being partially offset by the AIP (See Chart 3).

The pilot was used to bring 235 new immigrants to PEI in the first nine months of 2019, compared with 200 newcomers in all of 2018.

All in all, Canada’s smallest province has the country’s highest population growth rate thanks to it enjoying Canada’s highest per capita intake of newcomers.

Chart 3: PEI’s AIP and PNP intake (L) and AIP/PNP’s share of newcomers (R)

Nova Scotia: Set to welcome 6,000 newcomers in 2019

Nova Scotia’s AIP intake is surging, with the province welcoming nearly 1,000 newcomers through the program in the first nine months of 2019. (See Chart 4).

This almost triples the 375 newcomers that it welcomed through the pilot in all of 2018.

Thanks to its increased AIP and PNP intake, Nova Scotia has set a number of newcomer records in recent years: it surpassed 5,000 immigrants for the first time in 2016, and the AIP helped Nova Scotia reach nearly 6,000 newcomers in 2018—a threshold it looks poised to surpass in 2019.

Chart 4: Nova Scotia’s AIP and PNP intake (L) and its AIP/PNP percentage share of newcomers (R)

New Brunswick: more than 5,000 newcomers in 2019?

New Brunswick is currently the leading destination for AIP arrivals, welcoming nearly 1,200 newcomers through the program in 2019. (See Chart 5).

The AIP is also helping New Brunswick set new immigration records: the province welcomed a record 4,600 newcomers last year and is on track to surpass the 5,000 newcomer barrier in 2019.

Chart 5: New Brunswick’s AIP and PNP intake (L) and its AIP/PNP percentage share of newcomers (R)

When will we know Atlantic Canada has succeeded?

The above data tells us the region is in the midst of an immigration revolution with the AIP and PNP paving the way.

In order to completely reverse its immigration fortunes, Atlantic Canada will need to consistently welcome more than 20,000 newcomers each year.

Another benchmark for success will be higher newcomer retention levels. While the region has Canada’s lowest retention rates, recent evidence shows that retention is on the rise.

Retention is critical to achieving a positive cycle of economic growth — attracting and retaining more newcomers will attract and retain more Canadians as well as investment from the public and private sectors.

It is fair to expect retention will continue to improve in the region since the AIP and PNP aim to match newcomers with job opportunities, and both programs are also geared towards facilitating transitions to permanent residence for international students and foreign workers already in the region.

Atlantic Canada’s growing newcomer levels are a function of factors beyond the AIP and PNP. The unemployment rate is low in the region’s largest cities. The three levels of government, as well as employers, post-secondary institutions, and immigrant-serving organizations, are working in lock-step to promote the region as a destination of choice. This is the same approach that Saskatchewan and Manitoba successfully employed to boost their newcomer levels.

Today, immigration stakeholders across Canada admire Saskatchewan and Manitoba for turning their fortunes around within a decade of implementing the PNP.

If all goes according to plan, we will also soon view Atlantic Canada’s immigration revolution with the same admiration.

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