A new project at the Pond-Deshpande Centre at the University of New Brunswick hopes to tackle the complicated question of how to keep more economic immigrants from leaving the province.

This week, the provincial and federal governments announced a combined $400,000 in funding to NouLAB, a joint venture of the Pond-Deshpande Centre and the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network, to pay for the costs of running the Economic Immigration Lab project.

The project is a "social innovation lab" that brings together stakeholders from every sector, including public and private sector officials, academics and immigrants themselves, to brainstorm ideas to increase immigrant retention.

Then, the lab will get to work on putting some of those ideas into practise, and tracking how successful they are over a three-year period.

Karina LeBlanc, executive director of the Pond-Deshpande Centre, said the lab allows the problem to be tackled from all angles, rather than leaving individual sectors to try and solve it themselves. 

 

Karina LeBlanc

Karina LeBlanc is the executive director of the University of New Brunswick’s Pond-Deshpande Centre. She says the lab will help tackle the issue of immigrant retention from all angles.

"You get all the data, so you see the problem at a 360-degree view instead of just pieces of the pie," she said. "So it's really a collaborative endeavour."

The social innovation lab format also allows the group to take risks and try things other organizations might not, she said.

The lab has been running since September, and includes 50 participants from across the province.

LeBlanc said the funding NouLAB has received from the federal and provincial governments will go towards facilitating the brainstorming sessions, travel costs for participants, and carrying out any initiatives that come out of the lab.

Serious problem for New Brunswick

The project focuses on economic immigrants, meaning newcomers who came to New Brunswick through Canada's various immigration programs designed specifically to spur on economic growth.  

Alex LeBlanc, executive director of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council, was part of the leadership team that developed the Economic Immigration Lab.

He said he thinks the project is essential because figuring out how to retain immigrants is key to solving New Brunswick's population challenges, he said.

Alex-LeBlanc

Alex LeBlanc of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council was part of the leadership committee that helped establish the Economic Immigration Lab at the Pond-Deshpande Centre at the University of New Brunswick. (CBC)

He pointed out that economists and other experts have estimated that the province will need between 10,000 to 12,000 newcomers per year to meet employer demand and sustain New Brunswick municipalities. This is about triple the number of immigrants currently coming in each year, he said.

"This problem is very serious for New Brunswick," he said.

While the province's retention rate for immigrants may have improved over the last decade, a lot of work still needs to be done.

"We need to become a place where people want to come, and I think if we can accomplish that, then we may have a better chance of being a place where people want to stay."