Just the Tip of the Iceberg: The First Few Months of the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot
July 29, 2021 | Hilary Hagar
When it comes to population growth in Northern Ontario, the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) is a foot in the door. It has presented the communities of Thunder Bay, Timmins, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, and Sudbury with challenges and opportunities that will inform community planning and growth on areas such as housing supply, access to cultural food, supports for employers, reconciliation, welcoming neighbourhoods, and more.
Of course, how can we know the depth of RNIP’s impacts? What worked and what did not? To answer these questions, Northern Policy Institute (NPI) is measuring and evaluating the pilot from start to post-pilot. As the first in a series of reports, this paper outlines how the RNIP initially unfolded in the five northern communities during the first few months.
Based on online interviews and focus groups involving a total of 48 individuals, several key findings were found.
Implications of Multilevel Governance: While the pilot is community-led, communities still operate under federal immigration processes. This set up meant that communities had a steep learning curve on the ins and outs of the federal immigration process. However, as the pilot progressed, knowledge capacity as well as communication between both partners improved.
Community Capacity: Alongside the need for continued engagement and support of employers (many of which are small or medium sized in Northern Ontario), collaboration with community organizations needs to be continually nurtured as there was a drop in engagement as the pilot progressed.
Well-Defined Roles: Community organizations were not sure of their role in terms of supporting the pilot. Furthermore, there was an instance of government oversight where one agency said communities could apply as a region to be in the pilot while another agency said this was not an option.
Welcoming Communities: The general public has not been as engaged with the pilot, which COVID-19 may have influenced. For example, the launch of the pilot occurred as the pandemic started and many were being hit economically.
Based on the findings, there are several recommendations for both the current pilot administrators in Northern Ontario, and
future immigration pilots:
A standard toolkit for municipalities to help curb the initial learning curve on Canadian immigration processes,
Dedicated resources for engagement with employers, community organizations, and the general public.
Dedicated resources for welcoming efforts.
Clear roles and expectations at the start with partners – government or otherwise – can mitigate confusion down
With the rise of other immigration pilots across Canada, the need for evaluating immigration policy experimentation for evidence-based decision making is important now more than ever.