The pandemic might have changed a lot of things in New Brunswick, but support for immigration has only grown, according to a survey by Narrative Research.
The poll, commissioned by the New Brunswick Multicultural Council (NBMC), showed 76 percent of residents feel it’s important that immigrants be allowed to come to the province to fill jobs in essential services. Almost four in 10 residents feel it is critically important to do so, with those aged 18-34 and those with post-secondary education most likely to feel that way.
“Those numbers just confirm the true image that we all know about New Brunswickers, that New Brunswickers do care in the majority about immigration and immigrants,” said NBMC president Moncef Lakouas.
Lakouas said this shows that New Brunswickers understand the need for immigrants to tackle labour shortages and grow the province’s economy now, as the population is aging.
“They got it,” he said. “They know that we need to do better.”
Some 75 percent of New Brunswickers also feel it’s important for international students to be allowed to come to help sustain colleges and universities in the province. More than a quarter of residents believe this is critically important, with those aged 55 and older being the most likely to express such views.
Eighty-two percent also feel that immigrants with highly specialized skills should be allowed to fill job vacancies in the province, and 80 percent feel immigration will be important in helping the economy grow.
The poll showed similarly positive responses about newcomers from within Canada. About 78 percent feel it’s important that Canadians from other provinces be able to come to fill job vacancies.
This was the first publicly released poll on attitudes towards immigration in Canada, though not showing data from other parts of the country, during the global pandemic. The data was collected via a random telephone survey from May 9-20 and included 400 adult anglophone and francophone New Brunswickers in rural and urban areas.
The numbers in the poll are showing improvement from a few years ago when NBMC was just starting its New Conversations program, which includes a tour around the province to communicate the importance of immigration.
“I’m really encouraged by the numbers, especially in light of the Covid pandemic, because there’s obviously shifts going on in the labour market, some companies may not need as many employees as they might have three months ago, and some companies may need more,” said John Wishart, the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Moncton.
“So to see the growing level of support for newcomers is really encouraging in terms of the long term outlook for us and the economy in the province.”
A few months before Covid-19 put the province under a state of emergency, a new movement highlighted the underemployment of immigrants in the province that have led some to leave.
Job Inclusion NB, started by Brazilian immigrants including marketing consultant Juliana Walckoff, highlighted some barriers immigrants face in their job search, including the recognition of international credentials, the lack of local network, discrimination, and bilingualism.
Lakouas said he’s seeing more success around the province of visible minorities and immigrants taking more leadership roles but admits that more needs to be done.
“Today, I would say there’s definitely things that we need to work on when it comes to giving access to immigrants for leadership positions,” he said.
He said immigrants are taking some leadership roles in the education and health system, but not much outside of those fields.
“But we’re seeing some progress over the years of immigrants taking leadership positions not because of what they look like or what their last name sounds like, but because they’re competent and they can get the job done,” he said, adding that more dialogue such as what NBMC has been doing with New Conversations should be held.
Wishart also admits that there’s still “a ways to go” for resumes with ethnic names to be treated equally, among other things.
“I’ve heard some stories of when [an employer] would see a name that’s most likely an immigrant, it would go on a different pile. I think we’re getting away from that. It’s changed a lot in the last years but we’re not really at a point where we should be,” he said. “Some of it [would change] out of necessity.”
He said Job Inclusion NB was right in that “a lot of immigrants are chronically underemployed based on their experience and their skills.”
“Part of it has to do with foreign credential recognition, and part of it has to do with cultural biases that still exist. That’s why I think cross-cultural training in workplaces and more awareness in workplaces is really important.”
The conversation around the essential work done by temporary foreign workers during the pandemic has helped change perceptions, Wishart believes.
“But we shouldn’t look to immigrants just for those kinds of jobs because I know so many newcomers who are underemployed right now, and they just need a break. They need a chance to show what they can do. And the kind of world view that a lot of them have coming in is also what New Brunswick needs to break out of that cultural bubble,” he said.
That’s part of the reason why the Chamber and Immigration Greater Moncton is hosting a series of free webinars highlighting the needs of the newcomer community and what they have to offer.
The first one will happen on Tuesday, focusing on settlement services for newcomers and international students. The second one, on Thursday, will be around business and entrepreneurial support for newcomers, and the third one aims to help newcomers get the job they want.
Wishart is encouraged that so far, the attendee list is about half newcomers and international students, and half businesses.
“We just thought it’s the right time to put a focus on this so that the immigrant needs and experience don’t get lost with everything happening in the economy and community,” he said.