According to Dr. Tony Fang, “our province has a clear problem.”
The problem is that Newfoundland and Labrador is the only Canadian province to see a population decline between the last two censuses at -1.8 per cent.
Meanwhile, and notably, the other Atlantic provinces are achieving significant population growth (4–8 per cent), largely through immigration.
“A healthy population growth in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Atlantic Canada, can be achieved through immigration,” said Dr. Fang.
“That’s probably the only way, because I don’t think factors such as fertility and outmigration rates will change much here in a short period of time.”
But this province needs its population to grow in a short period of time: Newfoundland and Labrador has the oldest population in the country, the largest gaps of skilled workers in the labour force and the economy needs revitalization.
The good news
As part of his work, Dr. Fang has been collecting survey results about attitudes towards immigration in Atlantic Canada since 2014.
In his most recent commissioned survey, it is clear there is an increased public understanding of the vital role immigrants will play in rebuilding the province’s population and economy.
“Compared with other Atlantic provinces, we are the highest in terms of the percentage of residents supporting for a higher number of immigration intakes.”
Dr. Fang calls that fact a “game-changer” because a lot of times, decisions around immigration are based on public opinion, and policy-makers adjust their decisions accordingly to public opinions.
Some key findings include the following:
- Three in four responders did not feel immigrants “take jobs away from locals”;
- N.L. is the only province where those wanting more immigration (41.2 per cent) outnumbered those wanting it to stay the same (37.3 per cent);
- A majority (67.6 per cent) agree that immigrants have had a positive impact on the province, and would welcome them as neighbours (84.9 per cent); and,
- In 2014 only 22 per cent of responders felt their province needed more immigrants, but that number has nearly doubled to 41 per cent since.
Better employment options
It is vital for immigrant retention that immigrants can find a career to thrive and it is encouraging to see employer sentiments are also trending in the that direction, says Dr. Fang.
He also says that with each passing year, the province’s employers report more and more pronounced labour skills shortages. Two years ago, it was 43 per cent. Now, 62 per cent of employers report hiring difficulties.
More than 89 per cent of these same employers are willing to hire skilled immigrant workers.
With recent statistics on public opinion towards immigration trending in a positive direction in the province, the provincial government, in theory, will have more success with immigration strategies and immigration retention, Dr. Fang says.
The survey results come at a fitting time, as Newfoundland and Labrador is set to welcome Ukrainian refugees, for however long they need or choose to stay in the province.