Felix Koros moved from Kenya to Sault Ste. Marie., Ont., with his family in early December, and thanks to an immigration pilot program, he says he is on track to become a permanent resident soon.
“We thank God that we are here in Canada,” said Koros, who was an engineer in his home country, and now works as an aircraft mechanic for a company called JD Aero.
“We are seeing that the environment is very good for us and for our children, and for the future.”
When he applied for the job he learned about the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) program, which fast-tracks the process to gain permanent residency for newcomers who find work in 11 participating small cities across Canada.
In northeastern Ontario, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Timmins and North Bay all participate in the program.
Working with the municipality, Koros’ employer will be able to get him a letter of recommendation for permanent residency, which would allow him to build a life in Canada without worrying about a temporary work permit.
Permanent residency is also an important step before someone becomes a Canadian citizen.
“It’s been quite a seamless process for me personally and I’ve seen that things are coming up well, especially during this time,” Koros said about the program.
Fatima Pacheco arrived in Sault Ste. Marie in September 2021, where she enroled at Sault College to update her nursing credentials.
Pacheco is from the Philippines and worked as a nurse in Saudi Arabia for seven years, before she came to Canada.
In Saudi Arabia there were more barriers to becoming a permanent resident, and Pacheco said she always dreamed of coming to Canada as a safe place to raise her young daughter.
“That’s why 10 years ago, before going to Saudi Arabia, I really dreamed of this country,” she said.
After a year of studies Pacheco was able to work as a registered practical nurse at the Chartwell Collegiate Heights Retirement Residence in Sault Ste. Marie.
She applied for her permanent residency in September 2022 and was approved in December.
Without a letter of recommendation from the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot program, she said the process could have taken up to 18 months, instead of two.
Now she is also studying to update her credentials further, so she can work as a registered nurse in Canada.
The city of Sault Ste. Marie says the program exceeded expectations last year.
The city set a goal to recommend 125 people for permanent residency in 2022, and issued 213 recommendation letters instead.
In Timmins, the city fell short of its goals for the program last year. The goal was to submit 170 recommendation letters, and the community recommended 148 newcomers instead.
But Timmins Mayor Michelle Boileau said she still sees the pilot as a success.
“I’ve heard first-hand from employers that had it not been for the (RNIP) program, you know, they might not have been able to stay open into the next year,” she said.
“So it’s having a very positive impact on our business community.”
Boileau said the program has helped employers address labour shortages, and noted 39 per cent of approved candidates in the community work as early childhood educators.
David Prins arrived in Timmins in August 2021, from Colombia, to work as a heavy equipment mechanic in the forestry sector.
Thanks to the pilot program, he became a permanent resident last December.
“I would like to encourage people to investigate or research about the program and hopefully the program will be longer than the necessary time for the people to get the permanent residence,” he said.
Pilot set to end in 2024
The RNIP program launched in late 2019, and is scheduled to end next year.
Meredith Armstrong, the city of Greater Sudbury’s director of economic development, said she believes the program will become permanent thanks to a high number of approvals in 2022.
She noted a similar model in Atlantic Canada became permanent after a pilot.
“We see this as a long term play for northern and rural communities,” Armstrong said.
“We know it takes time for people to, you know, be in a position to consider these communities and judging from the permanent status of the Atlantic model that this is based off of, we’re really feeling very hopeful and optimistic that there could be an opportunity for RNIP to become permanent.”