BELLEVILLE, ONT. — A new Ontario Government program aims to assist businesses in small and rural communities attract and retain skilled workers in an effort to fulfill labour needs in construction, manufacturing, agriculture and tourism that are not being met locally.

The Regional Immigration Pilot program is part of the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP). Three Ontario municipalities were selected to participate: Chatham-Kent, Cornwall and Belleville/Quinte West. The program is expected to provide an opportunity for businesses in the communities to fill talent gaps and support economic growth and a pathway for skilled foreign workers to become permanent residents.

While developing the pilot, the government gathered feedback from stakeholders in a number of small and rural communities across the province, indicates a release, adding communities were chosen based on their specific skilled labour challenges, the ability to help newcomers get settled and interest from community stakeholders.

In a recent letter, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade Vic Fedeli called on the federal government to work in collaboration to further develop Ontario’s immigration strategy and give the province more choice and autonomy over the selection of economic immigrants.

“Belleville and Quinte West have a fantastic infrastructure and capacity to welcome newcomers and help them get settled,” said Todd Smith, minister of children, community and social services and MPP Bay of Quinte, in a statement.

“Through the Regional Immigration Pilot, we will help alleviate skilled labour challenges in the region, so our job creators can continue to grow their businesses and boost our local economy.”

“The labour shortage in our region affects many sectors and is especially challenging in manufacturing, construction, agriculture and tourism/hospitality,” said Suzanne Andrews, CEO, Quinte West Chamber of Commerce in a statement.”

Outcomes from the pilot are anticipated to help inform further efforts to regionalize economic immigration in the province.