Officials overseeing the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) program in the Town of Altona and Municipality of Rhineland were thrilled to hear last week that the federal government is extending the initiative until February 2024. That is just one of several increased benefits outlined in Friday's announcement, and one that SEED has been advocating for for quite some time, noted Economic Development Officer, Stephanie Harris. 

"We are very very thrilled about that announcement," said Harris, noting she believes this extension demonstrates that all 11 participating communities across Canada are seeing success with the program. 

To date, the RNIP program has resulted in a potential population boost of 160 people in the Altona/Rhineland region since it began in 2019. As well, Harris says there's been a recent increase in momentum of local employers looking to fill job vacancies through the program.

"Not only are businesses who are operating at normal capacity experiencing labour market shortages, but businesses that need to acquire new employees so they can help grow their business. This continues to show the amount of business growth that's taking place in the region." explained Harris.

With a combined unemployment rate of 3.7 per cent in the two municipalities, Harris says they are pleased to be able to continue using the RNIP program to fill local labour shortages.

We are seeing a need in multiple different industries and positions," she noted. "You can't walk down the street or drive down the highway without seeing signage for job vacancies. As well, when you look on, the numbers that are listed there - I think the last time I looked it was just over 180 vacancies in Altona and Rhineland."

Harris added, immigration is a large part of the solution to filling those vacancies.

Carl Steenkamp and his wife Hesti, along with their two boys, were the first family to arrive in Altona through the RNIP program back in 2020. In fact, next month will mark two years since the family moved from South Africa to the southern Manitoba community. 

"It's really been great," said Steenkamp in describing the last two years since arriving in Altona. "We are really privileged. Even in a pandemic, we made really good friends, and I think the reason for that is we have kids and we go to the park. Again, Altona has these lovely parks and when you go to the park you talk to people."

Another highlight, noted Steenkamp, is that the community is safe. Additionally, the Steenkamp's were able to purchase a home within a year of arriving. "We've been lucky," he said. 

A self-proclaimed advocate for the RNIP program, Steenkamp says he was motivated to help make it a success because he was the first local applicant to arrive. He and his family have also since formed friendships with the others that have relocated to Altona and Rhineland through the program.

Having previously explored many pathways to get to Canada, Steenkamp says RNIP is unique. He explained, many of the other programs have high language proficiency requirements, or are based on a points system with a high baseline that sometimes requires both spouses to hold master's degrees in their respective professions in order to be considered. 

Meantime, Steenkamp said he couldn't even begin to list all the ways that SEED helped him and his family navigate the immigration process. 

The goal, noted Harris, now that the program has been extended for another two years, is to advocate for it to be made permanent.