Manitoba depends on immigration, but one expert argues the province's nominee program needs to cool down
By: Greg Di Cresce
Rodrigo Maglalang immigrated to Manitoba from the Philippines one year ago. Jacob Fehr Loewen left Bolivia five years ago to come here. Both brought families. Both found work. Both desire to become Canadian citizens. And both say they aren't interested in leaving Manitoba.
Accordioned in this way, their stories and experiences appear to echo many of the 13,089 immigrants who came to this province between 2005 and 2009 through Manitoba's Provincial Nominee Program. Both men used the program, which has played a pivotal role in doubling our rate of population growth from 2.6 per cent (between 2001-2006) to 5.2 per cent (2006-2011), according to the recently released 2011 federal census.
No other province has so successfully and strategically employed its nominee program, nor is any other province as dependent on it for its population growth. How this pathway to immigration has been implemented and experienced, particularly by newcomers, can shed light on the changing economic and social shape of our province, today and tomorrow.
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Rodrigo Maglalang, 35, said he came for the "good life... a secure and happy life... to get a good job, to own a home of our own, to send our kids to university." Stories from relatives already settled in Winnipeg convinced him and his wife, Ana Liza, 36, that their family could attain this life in Manitoba.
His relatives also told Maglalang, an engineer of 12 years who worked at the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company, that the best and quickest pathway to Canada was via Manitoba's nominee program.
"The program is impressive," said the father of two children, a boy, Rigo, 4, and a girl, Aubrey, 2. "It asks you to lay down all your cards, all your documents, and you either pass or you don't."
Maglalang downloaded and completed the immigration forms himself.
Relatives coached him and sponsored the application. Maglalang had to show that he would be financially prepared once he arrived; he secured the necessary $16,000 in settlement funds from a friend in New York.
On Feb. 1, 2011, two years from the start of this process, he and his family came to Winnipeg.
"A federal application would have taken six years," he said. "And I was also lucky that I didn't need IELTS (International English Language Testing System). It's a tough test. It's been a requirement of the program since at least June of last year."
Although Maglalang is grateful for the expediency of the process, his arrival in Winnipeg was by no means the end of the journey.
"A few weeks after we arrived, I registered with the Manitoba Start Entry Program," he said, referring to a program that provides newcomers with settlement orientation. "But the schedule they gave me was for 4:30 to 8:30 in the evening. The office is downtown. I'm a newcomer and they told me to avoid downtown at night."
So Maglalang searched by himself, finding most of the job openings online.
In March, after approximately 15 job interviews, he landed a temporary position as a sales associate at Home Depot. With his engineering credentials not recognized, and with no car or valid driver's licence, this was the best job he could get. Three months after that, he found an apartment for his family in the North End between McPhillips and Arlington streets.
"This neighbourhood is, like, 80 per cent from the Philippines. Rigo's school is 90 per cent," Maglalang said. "Next door is my cousin. The other door is a Filipina who married a Canadian. It feels like home."
It is these relatives and friends, as well as his church and an association of former workers at the phone company in the Philippines where he used to work, who have helped Maglalang adjust to Winnipeg.
They've provided what might be described as his "settlement services."
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Unlike Maglalang, Jacob Fehr Loewen, 55, lived in Winkler as a temporary foreign worker before applying to the nominee program.
"Without that program, Jacob would not be sitting here today," said Tina Fehr Kehler, a distant relative of Loewen and the program co-ordinator of family services in Winkler for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) of Manitoba.
"No, I wouldn't be," said Loewen, who sat in Kehler's office, speaking sometimes in English, more often in Low German, which Kehler translated. After five years in southern Manitoba, he still preferred to be interviewed through a translator.
Loewen is from Bolivia, but his grandparents had originally settled in the Winkler area and he has many relatives here. While visiting in 2006 he was offered work at Morris Piglets Ltd. as a temporary foreign worker.
Kehler learned that Loewen wanted to stay in Winkler and have his wife, Anna, 55, and five children stay, too. Kehler explained to his employer that after working for six months, Loewen could apply for permanent residency through the nominee program. The employer, impressed with Loewen's husbandry skills, agreed to sponsor him.
Loewen and his family became nominees on Dec. 17, 2006.
Asked if he has ever considered leaving the province, Loewen replied: "Not yet."
"Maybe, if somebody offered me much money. But I've got relatives here and everything. There would have to be a church there, too."
His four sons have left, however, returning to Bolivia. Two of them went to get married. Loewen expects them to return.
"There's enough work here," he said. "Things are very much easier here also."
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Nathaniel M. Lewis, a doctoral candidate in the department of geography at Queen's University, assessed the successes and challenges of the province's nominee program in the Canadian Public Policy Journal. Lewis concluded that the program, which began as a 1996 pilot program to bring garment workers to Winnipeg, has exhibited an almost frantic adaptability and elasticity in the service of boosting immigration numbers year upon year. This narrow focus has placed a strain on a host of settlement services, such as housing availability.
Additionally, the downloading of settlement services from the federal government to the provinces and from the provinces to ethnocultural networks, such as the MCC, has inculcated a more competitive, regionalized and fragmented system. It's brought, according to Lewis, a degree of "ethnocultural inequality in the selection and settlement experiences of applicants."
Kehler has a different spin: "I'd say it's more beneficial to newcomers to be helped by people who know the culture and the community than by a bureaucrat who's been given the job and has no connection. This is why [the province's approach to immigration] works."
Lewis didn't disagree, but he suggested a quota system, at least temporarily, might be in order to "cool down" a system obsessed with economic and population growth.
"Manitoba's policy has been constantly adapted to bring more and more immigrants and there has been more and more growing pains with each of those changes," he said. "What this all comes down to is what's good policy. Should you just throw something down and see what growing pains occur? Growing pains that are ultimately felt most by newcomers who live the policy? Or should there be a less ad hoc approach?"
While policymakers continue to wrestle with such macro issues, the new immigrants plot their own course. Near the end of 2011 Maglalang's job became permanent. His work schedule turned to steady days, Monday to Friday, affording his wife the chance to look for work at "a Tim Hortons or a 7-Eleven."
"I'd like to go back to school," Maglalang says. "But how can we do that and survive? How can I raise my kids? I have to pay the bills.
"Still, we've survived a year so why not another? Let's see what happens."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 19, 2012 A6