A unique community-based immigration program has been launched for the City of Winkler and R.M. of Stanley. The three-year pilot is a partnership between Winkler Stanley Economic Development Corporation (WSEDC) and the Province of Manitoba. 

The economic-based program will target in-demand skilled jobs in the Winkler/Stanley region, as identified in an annual regional labour forecast compiled by WSEDC. Applicants will then be vetted based on that report. 

"If we find a candidate makes a connection to a job category (identified in the labour forecast), they'll then be reviewed by a regional committee and if they pass that, then we can create an endorsement letter that goes to the Province - it's our recommendation that we'd like the Province to nominate them (through the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program (MPNP)," explained Mark Sawatzky, Business Development and Immigration Officer for WSEDC. "Then they can fill out an application at the Province and they get vetted there, but the Province can look at our letter and say, 'Winkler/Stanley says we need that person'. That's a very strong step in the process for that person."

This process differs from what is historically done through the MPNP. 

"Historically, people apply to the Province to immigrate here. Those who get approved fill out a form with the Province, and then all of the people who get approved are reviewed on a points system. The ones that have the highest level points, get an invitation to apply," explained Sawatzky. This is where the uniqueness of the Winkler/Stanley comes in. "Typically, to get that level of points, a job offer is needed. Ours is unique because now it's not a job offer - we still look for those - but when our office creates a recommendation letter, it has the same points value as a job offer."

Dennis Harder, Vice President of the WSEDC Board of Directors, says the pilot program allows the business community to have a say in the applicants needed to help fill the wide range of job vacancies that exist in the region. 

"Minister Reyes made a comment at some point that over 80 percent of all newcomers to the province come through the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program. That's a skilled-worker program. Some of the jobs we need are skilled but they are at different levels than what the Province might have recognized we needed. Through this program now, we get to influence the classifications that are being looked at or considered for approval. That's a huge victory for us."

The program has the capacity to receive up to 100 applicants this year, up to 150 in 2024, and another 150 in 2025.

Labour and Immigration Minister Jon Reyes speaking with Winkler Mayor Henry Siemens and RM of Stanley Reeve Ike Friesen before Tuesday's announcement.Labour and Immigration Minister Jon Reyes speaking with Winkler Mayor Henry Siemens and RM of Stanley Reeve Ike Friesen before Tuesday's announcement.

Manitoba Minister of Labour and Immigration, Jon Reyes, attended Tuesday's announcement in Winkler and says the pilot was a long time coming. 

"Part of my role is to ensure to streamline immigration because there are labour needs across the province," he said. "I'm excited that we have this pilot program in place here. I know it's going to be successful and we're going to want to use this as a template for other municipalities in Manitoba."

“This is an exciting day for our community,” said Winkler Mayor, Henry Siemens. “It's been a long time coming, but to be in a place today where we have a community-based employer-needs type of program that allows us as a community to put forward recommendations for immigration, is really good. It's something that we've had years' worth of work towards and unfortunately, we haven't been able to get it really moving forward. But two years ago, I believe, we expanded the program and invited the R.M. Stanley formally to the table. As funding partners, we were able to hire a staff person at the Winkler Stanley Economic Development Corporation. That allowed us to be able to move this forward in a different way, to be able to meet with the Province at their level, bureaucrat to bureaucrat, to be able to answer the questions that they had. That allowed us to ultimately move this thing forward.” 

With the capacity to bring in 150 immigrants per year for the next three years, Siemens says this pilot program is the next step in addressing some of the labour needs in the area and, in turn, return the City to a focus on growth.  

“We're really excited about that as we know our community is built on immigration. A lot of the success of what's happened has been through immigration,” he added. 

R.M. of Stanley Reeve, Ike Friesen, was also pleased with Tuesday’s announcement. 

“We’re very happy to be partnering with Winkler and the Province of Manitoba on this,” he said.  “It is important to us because we need people in this area. As well as Winkler, Stanley has many businesses that are needing employees, and this will help us out in that area.”