Saskatchewan immigration website a first for Canada

By Joe Couture, Leader-Post

Saskatchewan is now the only province enabling applications for immigration to be made online, part of a new website that immigrant Ercoph Bongomin said would have made his journey to the province easier -- if it had been available 10 years ago.

In 2001, Bongomin and his family came to the province from Egypt, where they had been living as refugees from their home country of Sudan. Today, Bongomin, his spouse and their four children call Regina home. Bongomin works as an accountant and the whole family cheers for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

"I didn't know much about Regina," Bongomin said, referring to the time before his move to the city. "But my attitude was, anywhere people live, I can live. They (officials) told me, 'If you don't find it good for you, you can move to another province.' "

That was almost 10 years ago. The Bongomins have stayed.

"My experience here has been very good," he said. "As soon as I arrived here, I found also some people that came from my country before me and that makes it even better. I would tell (others) that Saskatchewan is a good place to live, especially Regina. It has all the feeling of a big city. At the same time ... the community is very supportive ... People are very friendly."

Bongomin upgraded his education at the University of Regina. He values the education system for his children, two of whom were born here. The story of their success is one of several featured on the new website.

The provincial government launched the website this month. It provides a central, comprehensive source of information about immigration, including how to apply through the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program -- the only program that allows people to submit their applications online, as well as track the status of their applications on the website.

Such a website would have made a difference for Bongomin.

"It took me longer to get all the information I needed. If this website had been there, it would have been easier," he stated.

"I think this demonstrates the real benefits of co-operation with Ottawa," said Rob Norris, provincial minister responsible for immigration, noting the federal government provided funds for the new project over three years to the tune of $450,000.

The website will allow for more efficiency within the provincial office, Norris said, noting staff will be able to focus on processing applications. A continuing goal is to reduce the time it takes to process an application, though some of that responsibility rests with the federal government.

Norris said he hopes the website will encourage prospective immigrants to choose Saskatchewan. Last year, about 9,000 immigrants came to the province as a result of the SINP. This year, the goal is 10,000.

Immigration is one of several avenues of population growth being pursued. Growth is important for both economic and revitalization reasons, Norris said. With many open jobs on the horizon, more people will be needed; plus, growth of the economy is related to population. There also are intangibles.

"We want to foster and facilitate increasingly diverse, dynamic and cosmopolitan communities," said Norris, noting newcomers are moving to 160 different communities, which are becoming more inclusive as a result. He said the province also is working with partners to enhance services to help immigrants settle.

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© Copyright (c) The Regina Leader-Post

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