Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rejig for business immigrant program

Province says revamp will create better screen; critics call it inept

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Manitoba will introduce new screening measures for business immigrants this fall in answer to criticisms its program is inefficient and fails to ensure newcomers hold up their end of the bargain.

The changes to the Provincial Nominee Program for Business will be implemented once a backlog of applications under the current system is cleared up -- likely by late fall.

"There's going to be a pause (in the program). We want to clear up our backlog, deal with everything we currently have on the table," Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Christine Melnick said Friday.

Manitoba will no longer require business applicants to visit the province before applying to locate here. A new online screening process will see prospective immigrants answer questions about their age, business experience, net worth, fluency in English or French and whether they have a support network here.

'What we want to do is make sure we have people who are really committed to Manitoba, understand our business climate... and... probably be successful'

-- Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Christine Melnick

The province will use a points system to rate candidates based on their answers. Those scoring above a certain level will be invited to submit a complete application.

"What we want to do is make sure we have people who are really committed to Manitoba, understand our business climate... and... probably be successful," Melnick said in an interview.

The province says it will boost the required deposit to $100,000 from $75,000 as well as establish "more stringent procedures" to verify applications and weed out false documentation. It also promises to improve monitoring of applicants once they arrive.

Meanwhile, Manitoba is also making changes to a related program designed to draw immigrant farmers. It will remove an age restriction that prevented applicants 40 years old or older from coming here. It will also target immigrants who have the means to purchase larger farms.

Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, said Friday he hopes the measures will demonstrate to Ottawa the province is doing its due diligence in screening business applicants.

"There shouldn't be anything holding up or anything impeding any of these companies from coming to Manitoba," he said.

Critics have charged that Manitoba is losing up to $100 million a year in investment because the business stream of its immigration-nominee program is a mess.

They say the province has been able to fill only a fraction of the spaces it is allowed under the program. And they claim there has been inadequate oversight to ensure promised investments by newcomers are made.

Randy Boldt, who managed the program from 2000 to 2006 and is now a privately licensed immigration consultant, expressed skepticism Friday the province had dealt adequately with the problems that plague the area.

"The problems with the program were not just its structure, but rather (with) mismanagement and poor administration," he said in an email. "Wait times were measured in years, not months. This was despite the fact that they had 17 staff in the branch (the second highest business immigration branch in the country), resulting in an approval rate of nine files per staff."

Melnick said her department is currently undertaking a complete review of the program's policies and procedures. It is also enhancing training, particularly in identifying false documentation, she said.

A government spokeswoman said 195 nominees arrived in Manitoba through the Provincial Nominee Program for Business in 2012. For the government fiscal year ended March 31, program participants made 91 initial business investments worth nearly $21 million in Manitoba, she said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 3, 2013 A4

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