Paul Chung might be overqualified for his job as an early childhood educator at the Cornerstone Children’s Centre in Nelson. But he doesn’t mind.
“Immigration means starting everything over,” he says. “I was ready for that.”
Before he came to Canada five years ago, Chung was a high school teacher in South Korea and a PhD candidate in public administration. He moved to Canada and took general arts and sciences at Selkirk College, then completed the college’s early childhood education program after he learned that Canadian employers have a hard time finding employees in that field.
Chung lives in Nelson with his wife and three school-age kids. He moved to Canada because he says there is more variety of educational and career opportunities here.
“In South Korea, the high school was so competitive, and careers are so monotonous, and you can only be successful by going to university. In Canada you can choose college, trade school, there are various ways.”
But Chung still does not have permanent residency status in Canada and might have trouble getting it were it not for the Rural and North Immigration Pilot (RNIP).
The program’s steering committee, after vetting him and his employer, has recommended him to the federal government to get permanent residency status based on his full-time job and other criteria.
A path to permanent residency status
The RNIP is designed to attract well-educated immigrants to rural areas by making it easier for them to get permanent residency status.
The West Kootenay is one of two such pilots in B.C. and one of 11 in Canada.
Chung’s acceptance to the program was not automatic. It has eligibility requirements related to education, work experience, a language test, a job offer in the West Kootenay, the intent to reside in the West Kootenay, a certain level of personal funds, and a recommendation from a local program steering committee.
RNIP is a permanent residency pathway for people who are not eligible through other immigration streams, for a variety of eligibility reasons.
There are also eligibility requirements for employers, including a requirement of a $17 per hour minimum wage for workers already living here and $22 for those coming directly from overseas, and provision of a full-time permanent job for a minimum of a year.
Erin Rooney, RNIP regional co-ordinator, says most of the people accepted into the program were already living here with temporary permits, perhaps already in a job or have graduated from Selkirk College, so they are already used to living in rural Canada and in the Kootenays.
Occupational priorities for the program are jobs that Canadian employers have a hard time filling: truck drivers, health care aides, early childhood educators, construction managers, and auto mechanics, although many West Kootenay placements are working in foods and hospitality.
“(Most of the program applicants) are very educated,” Rooney says. “They come here with a master’s degree, a lot of them. Some of them have a master’s in nursing from India, they’ve been teaching nursing for years in India. They come to study in the region and take the gerontology program at Selkirk which gives them the health care aide certification and a guaranteed work placement, it’s a great way to immigrate because (healthcare aides) are considered a priority, not not just in the region, but all over Canada.”
She says many want to eventually start their own businesses.
“They’re very entrepreneurial. They’re actually poised really well to either buy businesses or start businesses.”
Rajwinder Kaur Sangha was registered nurse in India before coming to Canada in 2017. She hopes someday to get nursing registration in Canada but that would involve extensive schooling.
Meanwhile, she is a health care aide at Mountain Lake Seniors Community after training for it in the Lower Mainland. She’s been recommended by RNIP for permanent residency status.
Sangha is here by herself and has not seen her husband and kids for two years. She expects they will move to Canada soon and she hopes that her husband, a truck driver, can be employed in B.C.
In India, she says, she was underpaid and there were few career opportunities. She wants to move her family here not just for her own career opportunities but for her children’s.
She describes being initially lonely in Nelson but has made friends at work and elsewhere.
“Now I’m comfortable. It’s a really quiet place to live. Now I have the residents and their family members, they recognize me outside the workplace, and they wave at me and say how are you. That’s so special.”
RNIP is popular with West Kootenay employers
The RNIP was launched in the West Kootenay a year ago, and since then there have been 50 job enrolments (recommendations for permanent residency) in Nelson, 25 in Castlegar, 23 in Trail, two in Rossland, four in Fruitvale, and seven in the Slocan Valley.
Thirty-six of the Nelson participants were Selkirk graduates.
Sixty-four employers in the West Kootenay have used the program, some of them multiple times. Rooney said the most common placements in Nelson are as health care aides and as food and hospitality workers.
The main advantage for the employers is that the program helps them recruit for jobs that are hard to fill, and they get a full-time employee for a year.
Mahitha Mohan earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering in India before moving to Castlegar in 2014 and to Nelson in 2016.
She studied business administration at Selkirk College, then completed its community support worker program before getting a job at Community Connections Support Services in Nelson.
Living in Kerala, India, she decided she needed a change and more opportunities.
“In India, it is education then job then marriage, so I came for a change, to see the world.”
She expresses great satisfaction at her life in Nelson.
“I have everything I need here: good friends, a good place to stay, a good job with benefits and well paid,” she says.
Rooney says that although the majority of RNIP applicants are already living here, some are going to great lengths researching the program and the Nelson area from overseas. She cites a man who is planning to come here from the Czech Republic.
“He’s so excited about going fishing at Cottonwood Lake. He’s already researched it and found the Friends of Cottonwood Lake Facebook page, and he’s so excited about going fishing there.”
RNIP in the West Kootenay is managed by Community Futures Central Kootenay. The program website can be found at https://wk-rnip.ca/.