Immigration Program Needs Improvement Given Aggressive Population Growth Targets

For release November 8 - The Province has surpassed its immigration program performance targets for 2016-2020 but many aspects of the program need improvement given the aggressive plan to grow Nova Scotia’s population to two million in the next 40 years, outlines a new audit.

“Doubling the provincial population by 2060 will put added pressure on the province’s immigration programs. Although not a primary focus of this audit, we note this will also stress provincial infrastructure and services in healthcare, education, and housing,” says Auditor General Kim Adair.

The Auditor General’s new performance audit of the Immigration and Population Growth Branch of the Department of Immigration, Skills and Labour found that work is needed to identify labour market needs, ensure spending to retain immigrants is effective, and set more comprehensive performance indicators.

Although testing showed applicants met eligibility criteria, inconsistencies were found in staff assessment of applications. Public confidence may be weakened if applications to provincial immigration programs are not consistently assessed, or the risk of fraud and misrepresentation is not sufficiently mitigated, Adair says.

Immigration is important to address Nova Scotia’s aging population, grow the labour force, and contribute to the province’s population growth targets and economic health. It’s also become increasingly important to businesses as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and struggle to find workers to bring operations back to pre-pandemic levels, Adair says.

However, there’s currently no process to guide provincial staff in determining the province’s labour market needs and there is a risk the needs of some businesses and sectors of the economy will not be identified.

The audit found that the Department has not completed an analysis to determine what services are needed by immigrants to assist them in settling here. At the time of the audit, the Department was spending $6.4 million a year in settlement services without a strong understanding of the settlement needs of immigrants, the Auditor General says.

“Feedback from immigrants in these areas could be valuable when determining where future funding should be targeted,” says Adair.

The audit makes 15 recommendations, including developing a quality assurance process for provincial immigration programs, and completing a comprehensive analysis to determine the settlement needs of immigrants in Nova Scotia. All recommendations have been accepted by the Department.

The audit approach included interviews with management and staff of the Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration, the review of policies and procedures, and testing of files. The audit period covered April 1, 2019 to December 31, 2021 and also examined documentation outside of that period as necessary.