A recent internal memo by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) reveals highlights from its 2020 stakeholder consultations on the Municipal Nominee Program (MNP).
The Liberal Party of Canada initially promised to introduce the MNP during Canada’s 2019 federal election campaign. The MNP was outlined as a key priority in the two mandate letters provided to Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau since the Liberals won the 2019 election.
However, the coronavirus pandemic got in the way, which is why the Liberals promised once again to introduce the MNP during the recent 2021 election campaign, an election which they also won.
With the Liberals set to unveil their cabinet on Tuesday October 26, Parliament set to resume on November 26, and the worst of the pandemic seemingly behind Canada, it appears that the path is clearer for the government to go ahead and fulfil this promise.
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Why launch the MNP?
The idea behind the MNP is to promote a broader distribution of immigrants across smaller Canadian municipalities. Since the 1990s, IRCC and Canada’s provinces and territories have made a larger effort to attract and retain more immigrants in smaller jurisdictions. This is to help recruit more workers to support economies across Canada as more workers age and retire. Canada has been largely successful in promoting regionalization thanks to the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP), Quebec’s own immigration system, and more recently, initiatives such as the Atlantic Immigration Pilot (AIP). Every province and territory (except Nunavut) operates economic class immigration programs that allow them to recruit permanent residents that have the skills to address their jurisdiction’s labour market needs.
Prior to the launch of the PNP in 1998, up to 85 per cent of all new immigrants to Canada settled in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia. The introduction of the PNP and subsequent regionalization initiatives have seen this figure fall to around 70 per cent. This has enabled the likes of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador to enjoy a greater share of immigration to Canada.
However, a common challenge remains. That is, most immigrants choose to settle in each province’s largest cities. As a result, smaller cities and towns continue to face challenges attracting immigrants. The MNP aims to help address this challenge.
Prior to the launch of a new program, IRCC engages in consultations with stakeholders such as provincial and municipal governments, researchers, immigrant-serving organizations, employers, and immigration lawyers. IRCC asks these experts for advice on how to design new immigration programs.
CIC News obtained the results of IRCC’s MNP stakeholder consultations via an access to information request to IRCC.
Key findings of IRCC’s MNP consultations
In the memo, IRCC reveals it planned to hold in-person consultations in 2020 but had to shift to virtual consultations in spring/summer 2020 due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
IRCC consulted with provinces, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (an association that represents over 2,000 Canadian municipalities), academics, immigrant-serving organizations, labour councils, among others.
IRCC asked stakeholders questions relating to what a successful MNP could look like, how to select municipalities that will participate in the MNP, what role each key stakeholder could play in ensuring the MNP achieves its objectives, and how to foster settlement and retention.
The majority of stakeholders identified retention as the most important success metric. This is important because new immigrants have the right to live anywhere they want in Canada. For a community to benefit from immigration, they need to provide job opportunities and a welcoming environment to help immigrants feel at home. Other success factors identified by stakeholders included addressing labour market needs and supporting economic growth in smaller communities.
IRCC’s main takeaway from the discussion on the MNP’s success was that the MNP should aim to increase immigration to under-served communities that have labour shortages while also ensuring participating municipalities have the capacity they need to retain new immigrants.
Nearly 80 per cent of respondents said labour shortages should be the main determinant of selecting which municipalities can participate in the MNP. To support retention, respondents said participating municipalities should have readiness factors in place such as critical infrastructure, the ability to welcome newcomers, existing economic growth strategies, and having publicly funded colleges and universities. The top three infrastructure criteria flagged by respondents were housing, health care, and schools.
Respondents agreed the three levels of government each have a key role to play in the MNP. Nearly half suggested it was “completely viable” for the MNP to operate within the Provincial Nominee Program.
Details on when the MNP will launch remain unavailable. There are still more questions than answers on topics such as what the program will look like, what the eligibility criteria is, which municipalities will participate, and what role key actors such as employers and immigrant-serving organizations will play. Based on recent precedent, we can expect IRCC to eventually unveil most of these details via a press release on its website. If the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) is any indication, IRCC will also issue a call for proposals so that eligible municipalities can submit applications to IRCC to be approved to recruit newcomers through the MNP.
We also do not know whether the MNP will be unveiled as a permanent or pilot program. However, every new program launched by IRCC since 2013 has been a pilot. If this holds true for the MNP, IRCC will operate the MNP for up to 5 years and process up to 2,750 applications per year. Within the 5 year period, IRCC would need to determine whether to make the MNP permanent, a process that would entail having it approved by Parliament.
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