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B.C. asks federal government for more autonomy over immigration to solve labour shortage

Immigration minister Nathan Cullen lobbies Ottawa to up medical professionals sponsorship to 10,000
Nathan Cullen, minister responsible for immigration, during a summer 2022 art unveiling at the Bulkley Valley District Hospital. Cullen recently met with the federal government asking for more control over immigration for the province. (Thom Barker photo)

B.C. is joining other provinces in asking Ottawa for more autonomy over immigration matters in a bid to address the labour shortage.

B.C.’s minister responsible for immigration, Nathan Cullen, said the province is pushing for over 10,000 new immigrants to come into the province through the provincial nominee program (PNP) to address its medical staff shortages.

“Right now we’re capped at 7,000 but we want to go up to 10,000 a year and we think we can handle even more than that,” Cullen said.

A meeting, which took place in New Brunswick on July 28, saw provincial immigration ministers meet with their federal counterpart, Sean Fraser, to address this issue of labour shortage and seek greater control over the immigration system.

Currently, in Canada, Quebec is the only province that has autonomy over setting its own immigration levels established through the Canada-Québec Accord signed in 1991.

The rest of the provinces are regulated through federal immigration law mandates.

“If Ottawa allocated us more people [through PNP] we could bring in more nurses,” Cullen said.

In B.C. there’s a need for more 100,000 skilled professionals, said Cullen. While a couple years ago B.C. focused on getting in tech professionals through PNP as part of its economic immigration, it now intends to focus on medical professionals.

“When we talk about the nursing and the doctor crisis, immigration is clearly going to be part of the solution because we just simply can’t train up fast enough the number of doctors and nurses we need, that’s going to take time.”

Cullen said B.C. is pitching to sponsor medical professionals to come into the country through job offers.

“Landing with a job is one of the better ways to be successful in a new country,” Cullen said.

The province has already seen a high success rate through this method, the minister added, with over 78,000 sponsored immigrants, 95 per cent of whom become citizens down the road.

“That was our pitch to Ottawa, let us increase this because it is a cost-neutral program, the taxpayer does not pay a dime for it and it brings in the people that we need and desperately want,” he said.

Provinces getting more control over immigration can also help with easing the processing backlogs faced by the federal system, said Cullen.

There is also an issue of existing immigrant medical professionals who are stuck in the rut of obtaining licenses, Cullen said, attributing the delays to the accreditation colleges. Canada has a historically long waiting period for immigrating medical practitioners to obtain their licenses here, which results in provinces losing out on these professionals. Cullen said the province is working with accreditation colleges to address this issue as well.

“I’ve seen an attitudinal shift and we’re seeing it already in the way [accreditation colleges] are accrediting people but our government has promised them and the public that we’re going to be much more aggressive on these colleges that the accreditation in terms of timeliness and transparency and fairness.”

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