Representatives from Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) recently paid a visit to Altona and the Municipality of Rhineland where they were able to see firsthand how the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) program has evolved over the last two-and-a-half years.

Stephanie Harris is the Economic Development Officer for SEED, the local group that administers the program in the area.

"The reason for their visit was to engage with the newcomers that have already settled in the community, meet the stakeholders who we collaborate with on the success of the pilot program and to engage with local businesses," she explained.

Harris added the week-long visit was also a good opportunity for local business owners and leaders to connect with the IRCC officials.

"They were able to provide their experience with the program to date and ask questions of them, and IRCC was able to provide some guidance, suggestions and tips especially when it comes to interviewing foreign nationals which is new for some of our businesses that are participating."

It was during this visit that SEED, local RNIP partners and business owners advocated for the program to be extended or made permanent. Harris noted, SEED has officially requested the pilot, which is due to expire at the end of October, to be extended until at least 2024.

"(Businesses) really want to utilize the program in order to address the labour market shortages that we're seeing take place," she explained. With a local unemployment rate of around 3 per cent, Harris noted immigration is crucial to addressing that need.

In total, over 50 job offers have been extended to applicants through the RNIP program in the Altona/Rhineland area which, according to Harris, results in a population impact of around 160 people. So far, just over half of those successful applicants have arrived with the other half on the way.

During the visit, SEED hosted its first Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot in-person celebration. The event took place at the Rhineland Pioneer Centre in Altona with supper generously donated by Sun Valley Co-op. There were 26 primary applicants of the program and their families in attendance totaling approximately 60 newcomers from 13 different countries, plus program stakeholders and the IRCC representatives.

"All together we had about one hundred people gathering and making new friends, it was a chance to get to meet each other and get to know each other better," said Harris.

"I think the IRCC representatives were very impressed with the results of the program so far to date for our community," she noted. "They really loved engaging with the newcomers and

hearing from them how much they are enjoying the community, how welcoming it has been to them and how they are enjoying their employment. I think it was also great for them to hear about the businesses that are growing and expanding and the labour market shortages that are being faced here."