Manitoba has been hit by the first major plunge in immigration in more than 15 years, running contrary to the trend in almost every other part of the country.
Manitoba's immigration fell 16 per cent to 13,391 in 2012 from the previous year. The big crash was in the provincial nominee program, which recruits immigrants who have job skills needed here. The number of PNP immigrants fell 23 per cent, or about 3,000 people, to about 9,500 in 2012.
It's a colossal turn of fortune for a province that was in the vanguard of immigration with its use of the PNP. Manitoba appears to be losing its advantage. Saskatchewan is now nipping at Manitoba's heels in terms of attracting immigrants -- 11,182 newcomers last year; a 25 per cent increase -- and could surpass Manitoba this year.
It's not because industries here don't need foreign workers. Winkler Mayor Martin Harder said his community could hire 200 workers right now, including municipal workers, plumbers, welders and electricians.
Immigrants who want to sponsor relatives say jumping through the hoops is getting tougher.
"Around two years is the best estimate," said Navpreet Lotey, who was with his father, Gurdarshan Lotey, at a Keewatin Street Safeway Tuesday. That's how long it will take to bring his grandparents over from India to join the family here. "They're decreasing the numbers for family members."
Pritam Brar sees the bottleneck blocking up worse every year, an issue he blames on federal immigration policies. Immigrant programs are squeezed for funding at the same time once-routine sponsorships are being cut.
"They are cutting everywhere, family class, the nominee program. I've been here 40 years but I'm a community worker and people come to me all the time for help. It's getting harder and harder," Brar said.
Jeramie Garrido said she immigrated 16 years ago from the Philippines and her immediate family is already here. She wonders if her cousins would qualify now. "I don't really know what the immigration process is," Garrido said.
A private immigration consultant thinks he knows the reason Manitoba's numbers are falling and Saskatchewan's are rising. It's easier to land a job under the PNP program in Saskatchewan, said Frank Goldberg, CEO of CdnVISA Advisors Inc., which is affiliated with Pitblado Law.
The NDP government passed a bill in 2010 that forbids immigration agents from helping immigrants find jobs. You can be a recruiter, or an immigration agent, but not both. The law was passed to stop abuses that were taking place.
The result, said Goldberg, is Saskatchewan immigration agents have plucked applicants right from under his nose because they could offer a job and he couldn't. "I speak to applicants all day. They say two things: Get me a job and get me in," Goldberg said.
Immigration Minister Christine Melnick said the reason for falling immigration is two-fold. The province is still filling its PNP quota of 5,000 immigrant families -- a quota imposed by the federal Conservative government -- but the makeup of those successful applicants is different.
Smaller families are now immigrating to Manitoba, she said. More foreign students are also using the PNP, under a provision introduced in 2004, and they are typically single.
So those 5,000 successful applicants that totalled almost 16,000 in 2011, totalled just 13,400 in 2012, she said.
As well, processing times at Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) visa offices have lengthened to an average of 18 months from 11 months, Melnick's office said.
Melnick maintained the Harper government's cap on PNP immigration is the problem. It is has stymied Manitoba's ability to attract more immigrants and allowed other provinces to catch up.
Some immigration consultants in the private sector voiced skepticism at the province's explanation. They said if CIC processing has slowed down arrivals to Manitoba, every other province would've experienced a drop, too. But that didn't happen.
Some private industry people speculated the Conservatives may have slowed approvals in retaliation for the province's protest over the Harper government's taking over settlement services in Manitoba last year.
But Adele Dyck, president of Star 7 International in Winkler, an immigration consulting service, backs up Melnick's claim smaller families are arriving. Manitoba is no longer seeing huge families with 10 children arriving from Germany, Dyck said.
The concern now is the Harper government's new law barring immigrants who don't have Level 4 English-language skills, the equivalent of Grade 8.
Both Dyck and Mayor Harder says tradespeople who have been filling jobs in southern Manitoba typically have only Level 1 or 2 English. Those applicants won't be allowed to immigrate anymore.
Manitoba is starting to see waves of professionals such as dentists and engineers because they tend to have better language skills. But there aren't enough jobs for them, Dyck said.
In recent years, the top three source countries for immigrants to Manitoba have been the Philippines, India and China.
Comparing Manitoba and Saskatchewan
Permanent residents to come to Canada by province and urban area:
Urban area 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Winnipeg 8,140 9,972 12,342 13,399 11,103
The rest of Manitoba 3,078 3,549 3,466 2,564 2,288
Total Manitoba 11,218 13,521 15,808 15,963 13,391
Saskatoon 2,061 2,564 3,176 3,796 4,431
Regina 1,406 2,058 2,567 3,202 3,952
The rest of Saskatchewan 1,368 2,268 1,872 1,957 2,799
Total Saskatchewan 4,835 6,890 7,615 8,955 11,182