By Jackie Clark
The Ontario government has introduced a solution to the labour shortages in rural areas of the province, particularly within the agricultural sector. The Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation, and Trade introduced the Regional Immigration Pilot, which will target Chatham-Kent, Cornwall, and Belleville/Quinte West, in a Dec. 19 statement.
“Through discussions with employers in the agricultural sector, (ministry officials have) learned that there is a need for harvesting labourers, general farm workers, and nursery and greenhouse workers, in addition to more specialized roles, such as supervisors,” Kwok Wong, a spokesperson for the ministry, told Farms.com.
“The Ontario government provides businesses and organizations with funding through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership for skills development, training and education to help fill these labour shortages,” he said.
However, the ministry used statistical analysis and stakeholder feedback to identify regions of Ontario that cannot meet labour needs locally and are “are well-positioned to receive newcomers,” Wong said.
“The Regional Immigration Pilot will work within the existing Employer Job Offer streams of the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP). If an employer and position qualify for any of the OINP Employer Job Offer streams and the employer is located within one of the pilot communities, then the application would qualify under the pilot,” he explained.
“The pilot will include a set-aside of approximately 150 nominations per year in 2020 and 2021 to help these communities in the pilot meet their labour needs,” he added.
Agricultural jobs that are eligible include general farm workers, nursery and greenhouse workers, and harvesting labourers. Industrial butchers and meat cutters, and poultry preparers are also eligible.
“Employers seeking higher-skilled positions, such as farm supervisors, would be able to use the OINP’s Foreign Worker stream to attract and/or retain workers,” Wong added.
The ministry uses feedback to improve employment-based immigration programs to help fill labour needs with qualified candidates.
“We have heard from small and rural communities that have expressed an urgent need for labour in certain local manufacturing businesses,” Wong said.
For labour needs that cannot be filled by current Canadian citizens or permanent residents, job- and region-specific targeting immigration programs offer a long-term solution.
“The OINP offers a pathway to permanent residence, where the temporary seasonal foreign worker program provides only temporary work permits. For those employers who have full-time permanent work positions available, the OINP allows them to fill those positions,” Wong said.
“Hiring someone permanently reduces administrative burden on employers, creates stability for local businesses and supports small and rural communities to grow their local economies,” he added.
The Regional Immigration Pilot also offers an opportunity to increase the diversity of the agricultural workforce, which is essential to the success of the industry, according to a report from the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council. New Canadians bring fresh perspectives, ideas, skills and knowledge to the industry, the report says.
The ministry hopes to grow the OINP in the coming years.
“Minister Fedeli recently sent a letter to the federal government with our proposals for working collaboratively including the development of a multi-year planning process that would see the OINP grow year over year, doubling to 13,300 from 2020 to 2022. We are awaiting a response from the federal government,” Wong explained.
“Outcomes of the pilot will help to inform further efforts to support regional economic development,” he added.