The NWT has unveiled a new immigration initiative aimed at francophone workers in an attempt to help businesses fill vacancies during an ongoing labour shortage.
What is known as the “francophone stream” of the NWT’s immigration system is the territory’s latest tweak. Rules for a different immigration stream were loosened earlier this month.
“Foreign nationals living abroad who receive a job offer from an NWT employer will be able to apply to come live and work in the territory under a closed work permit,” said RJ Simpson, the territory’s employment minister, announcing the francophone stream on Thursday.
Simpson said there will be no need for employers to advertise within the territory or Canada first, as is usually the case. Deleting that significant extra hurdle, he said, would reduce “the administrative burden for employers to access foreign talent.”
Workers in all occupations and of any skill level are eligible to apply. Successfully applicants ultimately receive a nomination letter for permanent residency within Canada.
Simpson said the territory’s program aligns with a federal ambition to increase francophone immigration to regions beyond Quebec.
“The nominees who come to our territory through this program will enrich our already diverse and dynamic francophone community,” he said.
But the primary focus of the francophone stream is addressing the territory’s urgent need for workers in both the public and private sector.
Simpson said the new stream would help businesses find workers for “jobs that are not being filled by residents of the Northwest Territories or Canadian citizens.”
“Together,” he continued, “we can address the workforce gaps and support the development of a strong labour market for today and generations to come.”
‘My business is a ghost town’
Business owners invited to Thursday’s announcement said the francophone stream was welcome news.
Cynthia Mufandaedza-Moyo, a Yellowknife city councillor who co-owns the Best Movers home removal business, said she had only just told federal immigration officials “that I wanted to invite them to my business to see what a ghost town looks like.”
“Empty desks,” she said, describing the scene at Best Movers. “Parks trucked with nobody to drive them. It’s a struggle we’re facing. Right now I’m down from 26 staff to six.”
At the same time, Mufandaedza-Moyo said demand is higher than ever.
“We are starting to have to choose where we offer our services. I’ve been focusing on commercial businesses and seniors because I know other people can move themselves.”
Tanya Morais, human resources director at Hay River’s Ptarmigan Inn, said the town’s “thriving francophone support system” would ensure a warm welcome for newcomers who use the program.
Rami Kassem, of the Javaroma coffee chain, said his store’s second and third locations – both at Yellowknife’s airport – were only possible because of the territory’s immigration program. He said a fourth location is in the works for 2023.
“My dream was to start a northern coffee shop franchise and then expand to the other northern territories and to the south,” Kassem said. “But we struggled in finding local employees, so I thought my dream was too good to be true.”
He hopes a new, streamlined application process will allow him to focus his energy where it’s needed.
“Now we can recruit bilingual staff with less paperwork, which means we can focus more on our business operations,” he said.
“The francophone stream will be an asset to every business in the territory. It’s very important for a business to recruit bilingual staff, and the majority of francophone foreign nationals speak two to three languages.
“In a multicultural community like ours, it means a lot.”