Manitoba boosts funding to help immigrants integrate


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Michelle Puno, an internationally educated nurse, nearly gave up on a career in Manitoba.

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Michelle Puno, an internationally educated nurse, nearly gave up on a career in Manitoba.

The 38-year-old mother arrived from the Philippines in 2015 hoping to pursue her passion in Winnipeg as a licensed, registered nurse.

But it took years for Puno to receive the necessary accreditation to practise at St. Boniface Hospital owing to an arduous experience upgrading her skills and navigating the licensing process while trying to make ends meet as a health-care aide.

“It was difficult,” said Puno, who had eight years of acute care experience in the Philippines. “I was just this close to going back home.”

On Friday, Puno shared her immigration story at a provincial pre-budget funding announcement for newcomer integration programs. The Manitoba government is increasing spending to $7.1 million in the next fiscal year, up from $5.1 million in 2022-23.

The province said $4 million will go to projects that support the economic and social integration of newcomers and $3 million will go to Manitoba Start, a non-profit settlement agency focused on employment. Another $100,000 will go to SEED Winnipeg’s recognition counts program, which provides financial counselling and loans to skilled immigrants.

Puno received a loan from SEED Winnipeg that softened the financial burden of becoming a registered nurse in Manitoba; the cash support was the difference between staying in Winnipeg and moving back to the Philippines for a nursing job that was waiting for her, Puno said.

“I’m just so happy and very grateful for SEED Winnipeg that they were able to help me continue my passion and support my family as well,” said Puno, who works on a cardiology unit.

The Progressive Conservative government is looking to recruit hundreds of nurses from the Philippines to address significant staffing shortages across Manitoba. A delegation of government and health officials is heading to the island nation for a five-day recruitment mission later this month.

Labour and Immigration Minister Jon Reyes, who is of Filipino descent, will be part of the delegation.

The province must be ready to settle, train, test and license the newly arrived nurses quickly, and help with expenses, if they are to be successful, Puno said.

Other internationally educated nurses who work as health-care aides have been discouraged from pursuing their licenses owing to prohibitive costs and a complicated system, she said.

“Those are the struggles and that’s why a lot are disheartened,” Puno said.

The additional spending announced Friday has not been specifically earmarked for internationally educated nurses recruited from the Philippines, though funding is in place for foreign-trained nurses in Manitoba and the province is prepared to offer nurses recruited from the Philippines support for travel, immigration costs, credentialing and mentorship, Reyes said.

The minister will also be meeting with officials from the Philippine government to update a memorandum of understanding on immigration. Reyes could not say with certainty if an updated agreement would be signed during the trip.

“We are competing with other jurisdictions with regards to hiring folks from that part of the world and we just want to make sure everything is intact with regards to that memorandum,” Reyes said.

Sandra Leone, manager of SEED’s recognition counts program, said many immigrants are highly skilled and able to work in their chosen profession but don’t have the money or time to pursue the credentials required to work in Manitoba.

A total of 413 loans have been provided and 265 newcomers have found employment and paid back the loan, Leone said. The default rate is five per cent.

Newcomer, settlement and community organizations are being encouraged to apply for increased project funding. The program has supported 13 organizations in this fiscal year and financial support is doubling, Reyes said.

“Manitoba’s immigration strategy cannot succeed without newcomer services,” Reyes said.

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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