The minister responsible for a key NWT immigration program says his department is trying to do more to retain newcomers to the territory.
Immigrants to the territory will soon be able to access better support within the NWT, RJ Simpson said on Wednesday. He was responding to questions in the legislature from Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland.
Cleveland said constituents had told her foreign nationals may be leaving the territory because they can’t access everything they need to complete their immigration applications in the NWT.
That includes access to medical tests and language proficiency tests, she said.
“These supports need to be readily available in the Northwest Territories so that people have access to them without having to travel down to Alberta, which is quite expensive,” said Cleveland, adding that due to Covid-19, people now also have to self-isolate for two weeks when they return home.
Simpson said scrutiny from Cleveland, who has previously raised the issue, had “lit a fire under the department.”
The Department of Education, Culture, and Employment is now providing funding to College Nordique to help the institution become an approved language-testing centre. That means people may be able to take language-proficiency tests in the territory as early as December, Simpson said.
“This is a great news story,” he said. “It’s going to save a lot of people a lot of money and a lot of time, and it makes the Northwest Territories a more attractive place to immigrate to.”
Simpson said an average of 70 people currently travel from the NWT to Alberta to take such tests every year. With the new funding, the college will be able to offer testing for up to 72 people each year in six sets of 12.
The NWT has long worked to attract immigrants as a way to boost the economy. Every additional resident increases the annual federal transfer payment the territory receives, which is based on population.
Cleveland said immigration also increases the diversity of the territory and helps reunite families.
The NWT Bureau of Statistics reported 256 people moved to the territory from overseas between April 1, 2017, and March 31, 2018, the highest-ever annual number of immigrants to the NWT.
There are two main immigration streams overseen by the NWT government.
One, the business stream, attracts foreign nationals who have money to create or invest in a company. The other, the employer stream, helps foreign nationals gain permanent residency while working in the territory.
According to Simpson, the employer stream has nominated 59 people for permanent residency so far this year, with another 23 applications awaiting review.
Between 2009 and 2019, the employer stream has welcomed 427 permanent residency nominees to the territory. Since 2016, the business stream of the program has welcomed 17 nominees.
Meanwhile, Simpson also acknowledged challenges in tracking whether the territory is attracting and then retaining permanent residents.
Permanent residents can move anywhere in the country and any information they share is voluntary, he told Cleveland, making it hard to evaluate programs in the longer term.
“It’s not like we can put their name in a database and just track wherever they go,” Simpson said.
The federal government does possess that information, the minister added, and the territory hopes Ottawa will share it.