Halifax researcher says lifestyle, jobs key to boosting Nova Scotia’s immigrant retention

June 17, 2018

By The Star |

A professor at Saint Mary’s University says the key to retaining immigrants in Nova Scotia is being able to offer meaningful employment, and sell them on “the smell of the sea.”

Ather Akbari, chair of the Atlantic Research Group on Economics of Immigration, Aging and Diversity, said Nova Scotia’s 75 per cent retention rate can be improved by providing greater economic opportunity.

“The retention of immigrants depend on many factors, including what reception they get in the community, lifestyle, presence of similar communities, immigrant communities and also availability of jobs,” Akbari said in an interview.

“So whatever focus groups I have done, I found that all these are important issues, but if people were given a choice to live either in Nova Scotia to go to another province, if they have a job offer, then they would prefer to stay in Nova Scotia.”

Akbari will be presenting some of his findings Thursday as part of the International Conference in Intercultural Studies taking place at Saint Mary’s until Saturday. His talk, titled “In-Migration and Out-Migration: Atlantic Canada at a Crossroad,” will analyze 2016 census data to provide insights on immigrant mobility in Canada.

While Nova Scotia’s immigrant retention rate is the highest in Atlantic Canada, it’s lower than the rest of the country. Alberta leads the country with a 97 per cent retention rate followed by British Columbia with 90 per cent and Ontario with 86 per cent.

Prince Edward Island has the country’s worst retention rate, an abysmal 39 per cent, followed by New Brunswick with 60 per cent and Newfoundland and Labrador with 71 per cent.

Akbari said the reason Nova Scotia is lagging behind the rest of the country is the same reason it is the best rate in the Atlantic region: jobs. Economic opportunity and the ability to be close to a similar cultural community are the largest factors in inter-province migration.

Nova Scotia’s retention rate has almost doubled since the early 2000s when it hovered around 40 per cent, something Akbari attributes to the provincial government realizing it needed an influx of immigrants to keep the population steady in the face of falling birth rates.

“To attain economic growth we need people,” he said.

“People who are buyers of goods and services, who are workers, who also provide new ideas for scientists, geniuses, philosophers, all this is important for innovation. So in order to address this matter we need to either engage the local population for higher fertility rates or we resort to immigration.”

Akbari says the province needs to sell immigrants on the particular lifestyle Nova Scotia can offer in order to get closer to the top three provinces’ retention rates.

“First we have to educate the resident community about the benefit of immigration so that we develop a more welcoming community here and also promote the province, promote the lifestyle, that it is different from other provinces,” he said.

“In Atlantic Canada there is a different lifestyle. There is a different environment, people like the smell of the sea. People like how welcoming the community is.”

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