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Low uptake for new immigration program in Nova Scotia, numbers reveal

Immigration Minister Lena Metlege Diab provides an update on Nova Scotia's planning related to humanitarian aid and refugee settlement, in Halifax on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. Nova Scotia's immigration minister says she's confident in the work the province is doing to promote the Atlantic Immigration pilot project despite a low uptake over its first nine months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Immigration Minister Lena Metlege Diab provides an update on Nova Scotia's planning related to humanitarian aid and refugee settlement, in Halifax on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. Nova Scotia's immigration minister says she's confident in the work the province is doing to promote the Atlantic Immigration pilot project despite a low uptake over its first nine months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia is lagging on a highly touted initiative aimed at boosting East Coast immigration, filling only a quarter of the province's available slots last year.

Provincial Immigration Minister Lena Diab said Thursday she remains optimistic the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Project will be a "wonderful tool," and she's confident Nova Scotia is doing the work needed to promote it.

Launched last March, the project is aimed at attracting and retaining skilled immigrants for the workforce, as a way of supporting population growth and addressing labour shortages.

Each of the Atlantic provinces designate employers that want to hire skilled immigrants, while newcomers get a job offer and an individualized settlement plan for them and their families.

Diab's department said 279 Nova Scotia employers were designated and 201 candidates were endorsed in 2017.

However, the province ran fourth regionally in meeting its 2017 targets after being given 792 of the 2,000 slots available under the federal-provincial program.

New Brunswick more than doubled Nova Scotia's output in 2017, prompting questions Thursday from the legislature's economic development committee.

Suzanne Ley, executive director of the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration, told the committee that it's common to have low uptake in a program's first year.

"The pilot only launched nine months ago and it takes time," Ley said.

She said the office participated in 111 events to promote the pilot in the past year, and will continue further outreach.

"We can only fill the number of jobs that employers bring to us, so they are key in helping us meet that target."

The program has three streams — high skilled workers, intermediate skilled workers, and international students.

"A lot of our applicants are on the high skilled category and that proves well for retention," Diab said in an interview following a cabinet meeting. "Our employers are actually liking it, but as with anything new ... it usually takes a little bit of time for employers to feel at ease in using it."

Ley said her office is working with three development agencies to promote the pilot to the business community — they include the Halifax Partnership, the Western Regional Enterprise Network, and the Cape Breton Business Partnership.

The pilot project is slated to run through this year and next.

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