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In October 2016, New Brunswick’s newcomer retention rate was 72 per cent, a low rate when compared to the national average of 80 per cent to 85 per cent. Despite provincial plans and programs intended to attract and retain newcomers and skilled immigrant workers, many are moving onto other regions after landing in New Brunswick. In order to better understand what influences retention rates, we spoke to Ignite Fredericton’s Population Growth Specialist, Julia Ramirez. Ramirez has been working with immigrants and newcomers for years, and is well-versed in what affects their decision to stay in New Brunswick.
In 2012, through the approval and financial support of the City of Fredericton, Ignite Fredericton (then known as Enterprise Fredericton) hired the Immigration Coordinator position (Mei Huang) to host, attract and retain immigrants. The role has since expanded to address other population growth challenges with respect to student retention, talent attraction/retention, and repatriation (attracting former residents). Ramirez entered the position in 2014, and over the past two years has identified reasons that cause newcomers to relocate, how the community can help retain newcomers, and the programs already in place to assist transition periods.
According to Ramirez, the most common event that newcomers experience is culture shock, a feeling that people experience when exposed to a new culture or way of life.
“Because of culture shock, real integration takes between four to six years,” says Ramirez. “Any time before that, the newcomer’s decision of staying in our region is not solid. In the back of their minds, they are always wondering if their decision to locate here was correct. Even when a family member has a good job, whether their family forms roots in a community takes a toll on their quality of life.”
As an Ignite Fredericton led initiative, Ramirez has worked with multiple organizations to create the Local Immigration Partnership of Fredericton (LIPF), which is dedicated to working with all stakeholders to identify, coordinate, and offer available newcomer services. The LIPF program also works to identify gaps and support capacity for integration of newcomers and increase long-term retention. Another initiative that Ramirez has facilitated is Discover Fredericton, weekly information/orientation sessions designed to help new residents in the area to connect with existing resources.
One of the key aspects for retention and successful integration is helping newcomers develop their own network and connections. According to Ramirez, successfully integrated immigrants in New Brunswick are not reliant on a specific demographic characteristic. This level of integration is contrasted to other areas in the country where finding a replica of their previous home is easier. For example, newcomers in Toronto can find large pockets of people who share elements of their culture; unfortunately, this means the individual never fully integrates into Canadian culture.
So how can the general New Brunswick public address our low retention rates, assist newcomers through culture shock, and help them integrate?
“Early intervention and helping them feel welcome is key, and is not something government nor nonprofit organizations can do alone,” says Ramirez. “New residents need to find activities and relationships that connect them with the community. Our community has a little of everything on a smaller scale, so our willingness to do extra and be welcoming is key.”
Take a look at our Toolkit to find out how you can help with the newcomer integration process.
Join LIPF on Monday, November 14th at 12pm for the official launch of their strategy.