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Newcomers call for changes to provincial nominee program

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More than 100 newcomers who want to stay and work in Manitoba rallied outside the legislature Monday calling for changes to the provincial nominee program.

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More than 100 newcomers who want to stay and work in Manitoba rallied outside the legislature Monday calling for changes to the provincial nominee program.

The demonstrators, including many Punjabi IT workers and truckers who came to Canada to study and have been living, working and paying taxes in Manitoba, say their visas will soon expire and they’ll have to leave if changes aren’t made.

“At this point, these people are stuck,” said Palak Gupta, one of the organizers who came to Canada as a student many years ago and is now a citizen and immigration consultant.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Harpreet Singh, whose work visa is running out in six months, protests against Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program policies at a rally at the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg on Monday.

The protesters called on the Manitoba government to reconsider how it awards points to applicants when determining who qualifies for the successful provincial nominee program launched more than 20 years ago. It favours those who’ve attended schools in the province over out-of-province institutions — even if the international students are now living and working full time in Manitoba.

“They’re giving priority to people who studied in Manitoba,” Gupta said. “We want to know why there’s inequality.”

After completing their studies, students’ work permits are extended temporarily with the idea they can apply to become permanent residents. Gupta said many of those at the rally Monday have work permits that will soon expire, don’t want to leave, and see the nominee program as their only hope to stay.

“I have many clients ask me what should be their next step. I don’t have answers for them,” she said. “We are requesting (provincial officials) do something.”

Gupta said the issues are the limited number of spots allotted by the federal government to the province, as well as the points system Manitoba uses to choose nominees. In order to select nominees, applicants are awarded points for things such as education, English language skills, work skills and job experience.

Even if newcomers have the work experience, pass English language tests and are settled in Manitoba, the nominee program awards them fewer points for having studied in another province, Gupta said.

Although some may leave Manitoba once they have permanent resident status, many will stay and help fill staff shortages in the province, Gupta said.

“Once they get the invitation from the Manitoba government and are nominated, they will be able to extend their work permits and move on to the next step for their permanent residence,” she said.

Immigration Minister Jon Reyes said late Monday that changes to Manitoba’s provincial nominee program are expected.

Last February, Manitoba formed an immigration advisory council to look for ways to improve the province’s current immigration policies and programs, including reviewing the entire Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program points system, Reyes said in an email. The council’s report will be released soon with recommendations to “ensure Manitoba continues to be a welcoming destination of choice for newcomers to this province.”

Reyes said he’s travelled across the province listening to Manitobans’ experiences, concerns and recommendations for immigration.

“I’ve spoken with many post graduates who have created lives for themselves here in Manitoba, and I’m always open to suggestions if it helps the settlement of newcomers who can contribute to our province’s economy,” Reyes said.

Tyndall Park MLA Cindy Lamoureux said her constituency office deals with at least one call a day from someone having issues with the provincial nominee program.

She hopes the Tory government takes action.

“The concern is that there isn’t going to be a reallocation of the points and how they’re being distributed,” the Liberal MLA said after being invited to speak to demonstrators Monday.

“We want to make sure that those with established lives here, and who are already contributing to our economy, are being given the opportunity to stay,” Lamoureux said.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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