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Immigration into Sask. communities increasing

REGINA — What a difference three years can make to the diversity of a province.

Rural Saskatchewan used to have difficulty attracting and retaining immigrants but small communities around the province are now becoming increasingly cosmopolitan.

The Rural and Small Town Canada Analysis Bulletin released by Statistics Canada on Monday provides a snapshot of Canada's rural and small town areas in 2006 — a time when immigrants accounted for 5.3 per cent of the nation's population. In Saskatchewan, immigrants accounted for 2.6 per cent of the total population — 0.3 per cent were new immigrants.

Between 2001 and 2006, 15,000 people left Saskatchewan — the highest net migration in the country, said Roland Beshiri, co-author of the Statistics Canada report.

"The migration of people in general looked very bad at that time for Saskatchewan," he said. "It sounds as though things are much better now."

That's the case in Whitewood — a community of 1,000 people who are benefiting by the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region's January trip to the Philippines, which resulted in 72 registered nurses hired for hard-to-recruit positions.

Thirty nurses — expected to arrive in late August — will be working in rural hospitals, health centres and long-term care facilities in Whitewood, Balcarres, Broadview, Grenfell, Imperial, Indian Head, Lestock, Montmarte, Moosomin, Raymore, Fort Qu'Appelle and Wolseley.

Mayor Malcolm Green said Whitewood will put out the welcome mat for two Filipino registered nurses when they arrive.

"Our goal is to make sure they're very comfortable so they want to stay here," Green said. "These positions aren't getting treated any different than if a nurse wanted to come here from any province in Canada. The incentive is exactly the same."

The nurses will join several other Filipino women who are working in the area as a senior's companion and as nannys.

"Like anybody who moves to your community, they add value and become part of the community," Green said.

Rob Norris, the minister responsible for immigration in the province, said in his government's first year, more than 1,400 newcomers settled in communities outside of Regina and Saskatoon. He expects that will increase with the launch of a new immigration strategy.

"We will be bringing in 10,000 newcomers from around the world over the next 18 months," Norris said.

His goal is to create more diverse, dynamic and cosmopolitan communities right across the province.

"The good news today is that newcomers are settling in more than 160 communities in Saskatchewan — 30 per cent are locating outside of Regina and Saskatoon and while there is still a significant focus on Regina and Saskatoon, we are seeing a greater geographic distribution and that's very healthy," he said.

A significant number of newcomers to the province are welders, truck drivers, farm supervisors and specialized livestock workers, registered nurses and carpenters.

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