Event celebrates the hundreds of people contributing to the region through the Rural Northern Immigration Pilot—and the program’s new expansions
VERNON, BC—They came with their newborn daughters, their sisters-in-law newly arrived, their bright hopes of becoming a permanent resident and, someday, helping others do the same. Nearly 300 people gathered at the Vernon Recreation Centre Thursday night to welcome families of the Rural Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) program, and celebrate its successes.
The RNIP program helps rural communities attract skilled immigrants by matching jobseekers with employers and creating a path to permanent residency. Since 2020—when the North Okanagan became one of two BC regions and 11 in Canada to participate in the pilot—296 vacant jobs have been filled locally by RNIP newcomers from 48 different countries. Along with primary candidates’ family members, 624 newcomers now call the North Okanagan home.
Leigha Horsfield, Executive Director, Community Futures North Okanagan, recalled when the organization and City of Vernon first applied to host the pilot, which then had no funding source and no blueprint for operations. Now, standing in front of dozens of families from all over the world, elected officials from all levels of government now contributing support, and eager-to-help local agencies, Horsfield said:
“From the beginning, this has been a true community project with support and volunteerism from many stakeholders and individuals who have worked to ensure the success of the project. We are so grateful to all of you who have been involved.”
As Horsfield spoke, toddlers with painted faces and Canadian flags ran about, a father kissed the cheek of a weeks-old son and sisters held hands.
One such family was that of Claire Amisco, who arrived in Vernon from the Philippines with her husband and two daughters just three weeks ago. She is an office administrator at 250 Handyman.
“I believe this program will help a lot of people so we can get jobs and have a good family life.”
250 Handyman co-owner Dior Amisco, Claire’s sister-in-law, has been able to hire and bring over two other employees through RNIP, one from the Middle East and another from her native Philippines.
“It’s a pathway for us to share the blessings of being here and help others realize the Canadian dream as well,” she said.
Among the 173 businesses participating to date, there were several employers at the event who’ve hired multiple staff members through RNIP, including City Furniture business development manager Justin Sharma. Along with two newcomers on their way to Canada, over the last two years Sharma has hired nine people from all over the world—India, Germany, Australia and the Philippines.
At the podium speaking to all the new families in the audience, Sharma said: “We are grateful to have you join our community and help our community grow. This program has been a saving grace, and we hope you stay here and grow old here.”
One of Sharma’s sales team members, Germany native Alex Schoepp, said that will absolutely be the case for him. “We love it here. It’s safe. I have a good job. Our kids go to daycare. You’ll have to kick us out.”
The North Okanagan has become a destination of choice for skilled immigrants and their families: Right now there are 48,000 jobseekers in the queue. The local RNIP program has just been expanded to include the Shuswap, where it’s hoped the workforce will benefit from the chance to fill skill shortages. Once there’s a match between qualified employers and applicants, a Committee reviews applications and recommends candidates for the program. The number of primary candidates the community can recommend every year has just been increased from 220 to 250 per year, and CF North Okanagan’s goal is to reach 300 in 2023.
Harwinder Sandhu, Vernon-Monashee MLA, shared her own experience of arriving in Mackenzie BC in January more than 20 years ago, and commended both the participants and the program organizers.
“I’ve shared so many stories of how this program has done wonders in our community and I’m fortunate to know some of these families. You bring your talents and much-needed skills to our community…and looking out tonight at all of you, this is what makes the fabric of Canada so beautiful.”
To learn more about the RNIP program and stay up to date with new changes, visit www.rnipnorthokanaganshuswap.ca/