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British Columbia – An impressive front-runner in newcomer integration

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British Columbia (BC) is making immigration work. The provincial government has been in immigration headlines quite often over the past few months, with new initiatives and solutions to help newcomers make BC their home. From credential recognition services, to refugee settlement, programs for international students, better access to employment information and job-finding services, the BC government has been exceeding program targets and delivering exceptional service to newcomers.

The British Columbia (BC) Provincial Nominee Program ushered 1,881 skilled and business immigrants into the province this past year, exceeding provincial targets with a 41 per cent increase over last year.

“The PNP continues to do its job of making it easier and quicker for people who have the skills or who want to start businesses to come to B.C.,” stated Economic Development Minister for BC, Colin Hansen. He has set targets even higher for next year, planning to welcome 3,000 skilled and business immigrants through the PNP program.

Provincial nominees are an important source of labour in the province, which has seen persisting skills shortages for some time.

WorkBC, the provincial action plan to address these skills shortages, focuses primarily on the integration of newcomers into the workforce – providing credential recognition and training services, access to BC employer information, and guidance to help immigrants transition into the workplace. The Skills Connect for Immigrants Program, an employment bridging program and a key component of WorkBC, has already exceeded its 2007/2008 fiscal targets of helping over 1,500 immigrants find work in the province.

Several other announcements for immigrant job-seekers were recently made by Minister Hansen. One is a $1 million allocation to further improve credential recognition programs in BC – part of a $3.1 million contribution from the Government of Canada’s Foreign Credential Recognition Program. Another is a new pilot project at the Vancouver Public Library, which will provide newcomers with customized employment information to help them find work in their field. There has also been a pilot expansion of the Off-Campus Work Permit Program for international students in BC. The program has now opened up to include students at eligible private post-secondary institutions in the province.

But for the British Columbia government, immigration is not only about skilled labour. The province is also aware of the importance of helping refugees and newcomers who face multiple barriers. Between 2002 and 2006, over 10,000 refugees settled in BC.

The Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia recently received over $1.3 million to help refugees with temporary accommodations, food and incidentals, orientation sessions, and counseling services. In addition, a new pilot project through a group of immigrant-serving organizations in BC will provide outreach services to isolated immigrants who are not actively seeking integration help. Mobile, interdisciplinary teams will provide counsel and services to immigrants in their homes. The $1.6 million project is targeted primarily at newcomers “who have endured lengthy stays in refugee camps or are victims of torture or war [….and also] immigrants from rural areas who are now coping with living in highly urbanized areas,” explained Wally Oppal, Minister responsible for Multiculturalism.

BC is welcoming immigrants from around the world to contribute to provincial labour force and population growth. States Minister Hansen, “In inviting them here, we have the responsibility to ensure they are able to use their skills, knowledge and experience in their chosen field.”

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