Immigration is a federal responsibility, but it is also a provincial concern that is not a priority in this election. I would like to think of immigrants as more than a number filling a demographic gap. We each have our own story to tell. Moving beyond the numbers, very little has been said about the importance of immigrants to the future of this province, as well as the policies related to ensuring successful integration of immigrants in the labour market in Nova Scotia such as labour market entry and career advancement.
My biggest challenge as an immigrant was building professional relationships and networks. We are a word-of-mouth province and who you know can make a difference in your career choices and advancement.
Relationship building, networking, and strategic volunteering takes time and requires good knowledge of the local community and economy. It took me 10 years to build my networks.
Social capital is an asset, a capacity, which immigrants need to build in order to gain access to information regarding the labour market and the hidden job market. Being in the right place at the right time is what many highly skilled immigrants need in order to showcase their skills to potential employers.
What kind of policies, approaches, and practices are being proposed to ensure that such capacities are being built to speed up the integration of immigrants in the labour market?
Supporting and collaborating with well-organized local groups, professional associations and community organizations that are helping new Canadians increase their social capital is crucial for overcoming barriers related to labour market entry and career advancement.
What kind of incentives are we putting in place to encourage employers to hire immigrants? Are the policies we have in place putting a high emphasis on the value of the Canadian experience versus international experiences? What are the consequences and costs of such hiring practices?
Are we creating a system that capitalizes on the international connections and networks that our new Canadians bring to the table?
A welcoming community, in my view, is a community that welcomes diversity at the top. The provincial government can play a more active role in hiring and promoting newcomers to more senior positions within government. Why can’t we have a Naheed Nenshi success story in Nova Scotia? His story is a great example that anyone in that city [Calgary] can find themselves in a leadership position.
I am specifically interested in the promotion and career advancement of immigrant women and policies that promote gender equality. What strategies exist with regards to immigrant hiring practices within government departments? Annual reporting of percentages regarding hiring immigrants in the public sector might encourage the private sector to follow suit.
What is our immigration story?
Telling our story is important. What is our immigration story? How are we branding it? What messages are we sending to potential newcomers? Is our immigration story one that focuses only on filling demographic gaps, or is it one that recognizes the thousands of inspiring stories that are planted in our soils each year? How are we harvesting these stories? And who is telling those stories?
Accessible, up-to-date retention rates are necessary for policy planning. We are fortunate to have high quality and accessible immigrant settlement programs and services in Nova Scotia.
The retention rate of immigrants in Nova Scotia has steadily increased over the years. In last couple of years, it seems to fall somewhere between 70 to 74 per cent. A trend in the right direction? Indeed.
But how do we reach a higher percentage? How do we raise the bar to make Nova Scotia the best province to live, work, and play? Who are the key players and stakeholders? How do we align our resources, and voices, strategically and regionally to ensure an increase in the number of new Canadians that choose Nova Scotia as their permanent home
What practices are we encouraging to ensure immigrant participation and inclusion, not only in immigrant related matters, but at all levels of society?
These are some of the conversations that I would like our political parties to tackle.
The government of Nova Scotia can develop a focused immigrant attraction strategy, targeting certain countries to build communities here; build on successful local models such as community identified immigrants from Israel — using a local group to attract and support newcomers; support research studies that help us understand and learn more about the immigrant population and the different ethnic communities in Nova Scotia, some of which are more developed than others, and share best practices among these communities.
Soulafa Al-Abbasi was born in Syria and educated in Saudi Arabia and Egypt before coming to Canada to attend Dalhousie University. She’s the Director of Immigration and Diversity at Fusion Halifax.
(Courtesy CBC Canada)