The District of Houston is supporting a new program that aims to attract foreign workers to the region to help fill labour shortages.
The Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot, a five-year economic immigration program unveiled earlier this year by the federal government, aims to help rural communities such as Houston attract and retain skilled foreign workers.
Houston council has recently decided to write a letter of support for the program at the request of Community Futures Nadina, a non-profit developmental lender serving Burns Lake, Granisle, Houston, Telkwa, Topley and Smithers.
Community Futures offices in north and central B.C. are submitting a joint expression of interest for this program to the federal government.
“Should we be successful with the expression of interest, we will then be invited to apply for the pilot program,” said Kim Martinsen, Community Futures Nadina’s general manager.
Martinsen said skilled labour shortages are a significant barrier for the region.
“While British Columbia receives many immigrants with valuable skills, the large majority settle into major urban centres, not in the rural areas,” said Martinsen. “This program would be very valuable for our communities in meeting local labour market needs and adding a new range of skills and perspective that will only further stimulate economic growth.”
Houston employers are having an increasingly difficult time hiring the staff they need, according to a District of Houston report from last year.
“Employers in Houston are suffering declines in the ability to meet client needs due to an inability to fill vacant positions,” states the report. “Although jobs are available in the community, Houston continues to have a high unemployment rate.”
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says eligible communities include municipalities with a population of 50,000 or less located at least 75 km from the core of a metropolitan area of 100,000 or more.
Among other criteria, communities selected to participate in the program will have to demonstrate that they have job opportunities available and will be actively involved in matching immigration candidates to jobs.
The program is community-driven, which means that the communities selected to participate must be actively involved in attracting new immigrants, matching them to jobs and connecting them to established members of the community and settlement services, as well as promoting a welcoming community.
More information on the immigration process for foreign workers through the program will be announced later in 2019.