Premier Gordon Campbell put out a $43-million welcome mat Wednesday to help immigrants find the work they are capable of doing and to better adapt to life in their new communities.
He said the “Welcome BC” initiative is designed to ensure that the province remains Canada’s most popular destination for new immigrants, who will be needed to help fill an anticipated one million new jobs over the next 12 years.
“There will only be 650,000 students that graduate in that same period of time,” Campbell said. “That means we need to attract 350,000 additional people to British Columbia to make sure that we maintain and enhance the quality of living for all of us.”
Welcome BC unites immigration settlement and multiculturalism services under one umbrella, and promises to help newcomers find everything from important information about English-language courses to employment, health, education and recreation services.
The initiative was applauded by Tung Chan, CEO of the immigrant services society S.U.C.C.E.S.S., who called on business to also put out the welcome mat “so that people don’t have to wait three to five years to get back to the jobs that are meaningful for them.”
He said some 51 per cent of immigrants have university education and 22 per cent have college or technical training, but they are doing menial jobs because they can’t get the work they were trained to do.
“They need employers to hire them and, sadly, not every employer in B.C. is ready to hire new Canadians who come without local experience.”
Campbell pledged $43 million over two years to support the Welcome BC initiative, including $23 million to reduce waiting lists and expand options for adult English training to “create a very important bridge” between skills and opportunities for immigrants.
The funds are part of $71.5 million in additional federal funding for settlement programs negotiated by the province under last fall’s Agreement for Canada-British Columbia Cooperation on Immigration.
Attorney-General Wally Oppal, minister responsible for multiculturalism, described the deal as “the best agreement that this province has ever had with the federal government.”
Overall, Campbell said, Victoria and Ottawa will invest $217 million over the next two years to support immigrants to B.C.
The province welcomed more than 42,000 immigrants last year, a number roughly equal to the student population at the University of B.C., and the second highest in Canada after Ontario.
The Welcome BC initiative comes on the heels of a study by the Business Council of BC suggesting the province lags behind places like Ireland, New Zealand and Australia in the competition to attract skilled workers.