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Rural Renewal Stream keeps Jasper flowing while helping immigrants achieve their dreams

The program enables 34 select communities to attract and recruit newcomers as a way of helping address local labour needs while also settling newcomers into the country.
Namneet Singh and Astra Fe Penas are two friendly faces at the Jasper Employment and Education Centre. They can help answer questions about the Rural Renewal Stream. | Scott Hayes / Jasper Fitzhugh

Jasper’s participation in the Government of Alberta’s Rural Renewal Stream continues in a way that likens it more to the swelling Athabasca River in May.

The program enables 34 select communities to attract and recruit newcomers as a way of helping address local labour needs while also settling newcomers into the country.

“It's a win-win situation,” said Namneet Singh, Rural Renewal assistant at the Jasper Employment and Education Centre (JEEC).

“The main part of Rural Renewal is to get the highly educated or skilled workers in Jasper so that they can get permanent resident [status] and contribute to the community. It could fill the labour shortage here and employers don't have to hire new people every year. It saves costs on hiring new people.”

Many people come to Canada to become permanent residents. This is a new way of doing that, and it’s a new way for Jasper to become involved in immigration decisions.

Jasper began participating in the program in 2023, though becoming a designated community meant proving adequate supports for newcomers. With housing a perpetual issue here, approval wasn’t a sure thing, but it did go through.

Being a mountain tourist town, Jasper is prone to having a substantial transient population. JEEC executive director Heidi Veluw estimated it at approximately 30 per cent of the town’s 5,000 residents.

“You have all these temporary foreign workers and people just coming into town for seasonal work,” she said.

“You have this population moving around. They're leaving, they're going … they don't have what they want here so they go to Banff. Some have two-year contracts; somehow have open permits. There's just this moving. It's unbelievable lately because everybody's coming into town or they're changing jobs.”

The federal government’s year-end in March saw some immigration portals close, and although they generally start up again for the next fiscal year, it creates a sense of panic for many.

Veluw said that people come to Jasper from British Columbia and Ontario because immigration has changed. Since we have the Rural Renewal Program, everybody wants to be a part of it.

Once a temporary foreign worker is nominated for the Rural Renewal Program, they can qualify to work while they wait for a decision on their permanent residence application.

Needless to say, demand is high. It’s very competitive, but it’s really the employer’s decision who to nominate for the program.

“There's general guidelines from the Alberta government, but rural communities can decide who to recruit or who to retain in their communities,” said Astra Fe Penas, JEEC’s temporary foreign worker support worker and Rural Renewal co-ordinator.

“That's why it is community- and employer-driven for Jasper. That's why we're doing it. Whatever employers see as a labour gap in their organization, they come to us and say, ‘We need this amount of people.’”

Approximately 30 Jasper employers benefit from having employees who are part of the Rural Renewal Stream. Those who don’t yet but are interested can contact Fe Penas who runs information sessions frequently.

While other communities run the program themselves, JEEC holds the contract in Jasper. As a not-for-profit organization, it charges a modest fee to the businesses to make the program sustainable.

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