Immigration can be a Success

An Example from Canada – The Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program

Immigration has few defenders and even fewer examples of genuine success. When an immigration program is significant in scale, economically and socially successful and politically popular it deserves to be examined.

This essay will look at the Provincial Nominee Program operated by the Province of Manitoba – where the program was initiated and where it has enjoyed its greatest success.

Canada is often lauded for its progressive and overall successful immigration program and the praise is well deserved. What is less well understood internationally is that the Canadian system of immigration is not a single program but is composed of a number of programs that target different populations and goals and are designed to speak to economic, political, regional and demographic rationales.

Canada is a federal system where authority is divided between the Central Government and the Provinces. When authority was allocated at the founding of Canada immigration was one of only two areas of responsibility to be shared by both levels of Government. In practice immigration has always been administered from the center – with the exception of Quebec.

In 1999 the Province of Manitoba negotiated an experimental program with federal authorities where the Province could play the leading role in selecting immigrants. This was in response to an emerging problem. As Canada shifted to its points or merit system – the practical effect was to select immigrants who in turn settled primarily in the major metropolitan areas such as Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver plus Alberta during the oil boom years.

Manitoba’s immigration objective was population growth but within the context of economic benefit and social cohesion.

Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Maritime Provinces would receive a few family re-unification immigrants plus their share of refugees – but virtually no economic immigrants. Manitoba had traditionally shared equitably in the immigrant flow but in recent decades its intake had dropped precipitously. Manitoba is remote from major population centers, has few natural resources and its location results in notoriously harsh winters.

Immigration into Manitoba before and after the implementation of the PNP program. The effect was dramatic.


Conventional wisdom was that immigrants ‘chose not to settle in Manitoba’. On the other hand the citizens of Manitoba are very loyal to their Province and had the opinion that the problem was in the nature of the immigration system and how it was operated. The result was a test program where Manitoba could ‘nominate immigrants’ who would then only be tested as to health and security by federal authorities. The test was successful and expanded. It is unknown as to its possible upside potential since federal authorities put a cap on the number of nominees.

The Manitoba PNP program by the numbers:

Rate of immigration as a % of population in recent years:

Manitoba                  1.17%

Canada                    0.77%

USA                         0.30%

There was a concern on the part of Federal Government authorities (including the Prime Minister at the time!) that nominated immigrants would simply see the program as a shortcut to get to other preferred destinations such as Toronto or Vancouver. This forced the initiators of the PNP to develop techniques and internal rules that would assure that immigrant’s interest in Manitoba was genuine. More important, this perception encouraged Government and private sector organizers of the PNP to develop and strengthen programs to assure successful settlement.

Surveys indicate that the long term retention rate of PNP immigrants exceeds 80%. This is in the complete absence of any regulations or coercion.

The Manitoba PNP uses a variation of the Canadian points system but what is valued is somewhat different. There is a similar emphasis on employability but this was interpreted less as absolute years in University or credentials and more as practical skills for a diverse economy.

Connections to the Manitoba community and the kind of associations that would develop meaningful linkages to society were valued. This includes family in the broader sense but also linkages to an ethnic, religious or language community.

Priority was given to an age range, prior work experience and family. The reason for family is that a family unit needs to develop community linkages to survive and be successful. A young single individual may be very employable but a family needs to find a home, put children in school, link to medical and other services and create connections to family, church and friends. These linkages are important in the development of a commitment to the community and the desire to remain in Manitoba.


Unemployment did not increase as a result of increasing immigration. The nature of selection that encouraged settlement and commitment to the community creates jobs.

The term “likely to succeed” has been used to describe this kind of immigrant. It speaks to economic and social success – but also to the development of community linkages that encourage the immigrant family to remain and settle long term in our province. The private sector will speak of treating immigrants as ‘customers’. The point is that Manitoba as Government and society value immigration and therefore value the immigrant!

Manitoba together with Federal authorities has developed a very comprehensive program of settlement services. This includes support for employment, language studies plus assistance to access social, educational , medical or community services.

It is important to note that the original objective of the PNP from the perspective of the private sector was not immigration per se but rather a response to the need for population growth in a sparsely settled region. Manitoba has a population of 1,300,000 in an area the size of Germany and the UK combined! The absence of population and growth was becoming a severe impediment to the development of industry but also to matters as simple as critical mass to support sport teams and cultural organizations. Since the inception of the PNP the population of Manitoba has grown by 15%. During the last 5 years the population of Manitoba has grown at an average rate of 1.38%% per year compared to the overall average growth of the Canadian population of 1.14%.

The PNP is absolutely critical to this population growth!

The PNP program and immigration generally in Manitoba has remained very popular among virtually all sectors of society. The administration of the program has taken care to assure that immigrants would settle in towns and locations that wanted a greater population as well as be cognizant of the distribution of ethnic or religious origins so that all sectors of society felt the program was working for them. During provincial elections all parties have endorsed large scale immigration as part of their platforms.

The Manitoba PNP achieved success in large part because of the role of a champion. This was the Business Council of Manitoba (BCM) led by Jim Carr currently Federal Minister of Natural Resources and the program chair was yours truly Art DeFehr supported by some excellent business colleagues. The BCM provided much of the initial intellectual capital and crucially organized support among various sectors of Manitoba society and economy. The BCM also played a role in negotiations with the Federal Government. A takeaway for other jurisdictions who want to duplicate or learn from the PNP – you will need a committed and effective champion beyond the Government.

Manitoba has demonstrated a capacity for the acceptance and celebration of diversity and this has been critical to the success of the PNP. Prior to launching the program a survey was taken to compare the ability to accept diversity between jurisdictions within Canada and some in the US. Results indicated that Manitoba had superior ability to accept immigrants and increased diversity relative to all other jurisdictions compared.

The Manitoba PNP experience suggests that it is possible to plan and implement a significant immigration program that is successful for the immigrant and for the host society. This success has occurred in a location that has very few natural advantages or attractions. This deficit required creativity and commitment.

The Manitoba PNP program has lessons for other jurisdictions that are open to immigration.

If immigrants would arrive in the United States in the same proportion that would indicate immigrant arrivals of 3,800,000 per year compared to the current 1,000,000. An equivalent rate of immigration into the EU from sources external to the EU would be 6,000,000 per year.