HALIFAX — Members of focus groups commissioned by the provincial government last year were critical of the immigration process in Nova Scotia and felt a long-term vision for the province was lacking.
A report done by Corporate Research Associates based on the results of nearly a dozen focus groups conducted in June of 2014 says participants felt the province wasn’t sufficiently focused on its future potential for attracting and retaining new Canadians.
“Stakeholders consistently acknowledged that the province appears to lack a clear, long-term vision for immigration and appears ineffective at articulating its plans and anticipated goals,” said the report, obtained by The Canadian Press through provincial freedom-of-information law.
But Suzanne Ley, acting executive director of the Immigration Department, said much has changed since the focus groups were held. In fact, the report helped form the government’s action plan for immigration over the past year, she said.
“We’ve really come a long way since last year,” said Ley in a recent interview. “I think from a stakeholders perspective, we’ve engaged them along the way and they would see that vision now.”
Ley said the department has streamlined the application process, launched a new website and is focusing on retention through new immigration streams for skilled and educated immigrants.
“We could open the doors to limitless numbers, but unless people actually choose to come and stay in Nova Scotia, that won’t matter,” said Ley about the importance of retention.
The province says 71 per cent of immigrants who arrived in Nova Scotia between 2007-2011 stayed in the province.
On Tuesday, the province launched a new immigration stream geared towards international students who have worked in the province for at least a year.
The stream is part of the provincial nominee program, in which the province nominates immigrants to the federal government for permanent residency.
Nova Scotia is allowed to nominate 1,050 immigrants this year, up from 700 last year. Nova Scotia exceeded its cap last year, requesting and nominating 17 additional immigrants.
The report says stakeholders were also critical of the federal immigration process.
It said participants condemned the cap on immigrants and the processing time for applications, calling it “excessive and unnecessary.” Immigrants can wait more than a year for their applications to be processed by Ottawa, said Ley.
“The federal immigration process is not user friendly. It is lengthy, convoluted and cumbersome,” the report said, quoting a participant.
The federal Immigration Department declined a request for an interview. But in an email statement, spokesman Remi Lariviere noted that Ottawa introduced an express entry system in January, in which applications are processed in six months or less.
Stakeholders’ criticisms of the Ottawa-imposed cap on immigrants are echoed in a major economic development report accepted by the provincial government last year.
Among other things, the report co-authored by Acadia University president Ray Ivany said the current number of people admitted annually — about 2,300 — should be tripled.
Eleven group discussions were held online and in-person between June 2 and 6 of last year with stakeholders including representatives from post-secondary institutions, economic and business organizations, municipalities and lawyers specializing in immigration law.
A stakeholder forum that included 68 participants was also held on June 16, 2014. The focus groups, forum and report cost about $56,000, according to the province.