If you feel like you see a lot of “we’re hiring” signs around your community these days, you would be right.
That’s because Northern Ontario has a shrinking labour force due in part to Baby Boomers reaching the age of retirement, but also low birth rates and youth out-migration. These shortages have widespread impacts because we are short both low-skill and high-skill workers. This means the local coffee shop is probably having a hard time hiring, the hospital is trying to hire more doctors to no avail and good luck to the schools trying to hire francophone teachers.
The problem? There are not enough people working in Northern Ontario to provide all the services people are accustomed to having. In some cases, services our communities absolutely need can’t be offered. Nobody wants hospital emergency room closures to become the norm but unless we find ourselves more nurses and doctors, welcome to the new reality.
This is a complex problem, but temporary residents can be a big part of the solution. Those economic benefits are explored in the Northern Policy Institute’s latest paper, in partnership with Réseau du Nord: Temporary Residents, Permanent Benefits: How temporary residents fill vacancies, pay taxes, and keep the local economy rolling.
Let’s imagine an international student who comes to study at Algoma University. During their studies, the student works a few evening and weekend shifts at a local coffee shop to help cover living expenses. Many students, both Canadian and international, work part-time, but the number of Canadian students at our post-secondary institutions is decreasing while the number of international students is increasing. More students equals more students looking for part-time jobs, which equals less vacant positions. An international student also pays considerably more for the same programs, which is money to help colleges and universities hire more staff and fund more research, all good things for Northern Ontario.
After completing their university program and falling in love with Northern Ontario, our student decides that Sault Ste. Marie would be a pretty nice place to live for a couple more years at least. On top of that, there are jobs available in their chosen field of study. What does our student do? They apply for a Post Graduate Work Permit (PGWP)! And with that, they’ve moved on from serving coffee to filling a high-skill position.
A few years down the road, our student now has an established friend group, has perfected the art of downhill skiing at Searchmont, has a list of favourite restaurants and could imagine living the rest of their life here. They go through the process of applying for permanent residency, get approved and make Sault Ste. Marie home. The Post Graduation Work Permit program has been very successful because like our imaginary student, almost three-quarters of all PGWP holders become permanent residents within five years (Statistics Canada 2022).
It is calculated that temporary residents earn at least $279 million annually, much of which is reinvested in Northern Ontario by buying groceries, paying rent and supporting other local businesses. If we add tuition paid to Northern Ontario post secondary institutions to the income of temporary residents (because they spend their income in our communities), we get $455 million worth of income spent in Northern Ontario.
Temporary residents already play an important role in the Northern Ontario economy. However, as more Canadians reach the age of retirement, more people will need to be attracted to the region. As the PGWP has demonstrated, there is a lot of potential for temporary residents to become permanent residents and make Northern Ontario their home. For this to happen, it will be important to address issues in our communities such as housing shortages and inadequate public transit to ensure they are welcoming places for temporary residents. Retaining temporary residents has promise of alleviating labor market shortages but also enriching the social and cultural aspects of Northern Ontario which can help our communities and our population to prosper for years to come.
Northern Policy Institute is Northern Ontario’s independent, evidence-driven think tank. It performs research, analyzes data, and disseminates ideas. Its mission is to enhance Northern Ontario's capacity to take the lead position on socio-economic policy that impacts the region's communities, the province, the country, and the world.