The province has offered to help Ottawa ease the backlog in immigration applications in hopes that some of those people will settle here.
Elizabeth Mills, executive director in the provincial Office of Immigration, said Nova Scotia had fared well in attracting people through the federal skilled worker program, but she added Wednesday that the numbers have declined in the last couple of years.
That is a result of limits Ottawa put on the number of immigrants into the country.
Mills said provincial nominee programs grew over the last decade, reducing room for federal skilled workers to get into Canada. Some have been waiting for four years or more, she said.
"The main recipients of federal skilled workers have been through Ontario, B.C. and Nova Scotia," Mills said after a meeting of the legislature’s public accounts committee.
"The trade-off of . . . actually decreasing the federal skilled worker stream to grow provincial nominee programs has actually hurt us in our overall landings, so we really need to work with the federal government to see what we can do to help clear that backlog."
The province is looking to immigration to help expand the workforce as Nova Scotia’s population as a whole ages. Census figures released earlier this month showed Nova Scotia had the lowest rate of population growth among provinces, at 0.9 per cent.
Like other provinces, Nova Scotia has a nominee program, under which it nominates people to the federal government for citizenship. The program has six categories, including skilled workers and international graduates. The number of nominees is capped at 500 people, a number the province has lobbied to increase.
The province hit 500 in each of the last two years. It actually nominated 525 people last year, with the 25 allotted because not all provinces reached the maximum number of nominees.
Officials here are working on a business case, as are other provinces, to back the call to allow more immigrants in the country, Mills said.
Labour market estimates point to a shortfall of 3,000 to 10,000 workers in the province in 2014, as the federal shipbuilding contract at the Halifax Shipyard and other projects boost job numbers, she said.
Mills also said the province needs to recruit people through all immigration programs, not just the nominee program. Officials are also working on rerouting international graduates to another immigration category, which would free up about one-third of the 500 provincial nominee spaces.
It is unfortunate the spectre of a scandal in one category of the program is still on the minds of some people, Mills said.
"I’m very disappointed that this continues to haunt us," she told the committee.
"It has been since July 1, 2006, when we shut down this program, but we have lived with the consequences ever since."
Mills was referring to the economic stream of the nominee program. Applicants paid $130,500 in fees to come to Nova Scotia for a six-month management placement with a company. The province ended up paying back millions after complaints from many people that they didn’t get what was promised.
Liberal MLA Andrew Younger asked officials Wednesday whether those issues hurt the province’s ability to draw immigrants or to increase the cap on nominees. He cited a Globe and Mail story from earlier this month that referred to allegations of corruption connected to nominee programs in the Maritime provinces.
The number of applications to the province’s nominee program hasn’t dropped because of the past problems, Mills said.
The province launched an immigration strategy last year with a goal of attracting 7,200 people a year by 2020. There were 2,408 immigrants to the province in 2010, according to Office of Immigration figures.