Atlantic Metropolis Atlantique (AMA) was established in January 2004 to promote research on issues of immigrant integration, population migration, and multicultural diversity within small cities and rural areas. Attraction and retention of immigrants and refugees in rural areas and smaller urban centers, areas that characterize Atlantic Canada, is also a focus of research at AMA. This research aims to generate greater awareness of immigration issues in policy circles and among the general public by providing a platform to its stakeholders for discussion. AMA has a "bipolar" structure with centres in both Halifax and Moncton. It is designed to reflect the bilingual reality of Atlantic Canada.
Atlantic Canada has struggled to attract and retain immigrants in a country where overwhelming numbers choose to settle in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. The Atlantic challenge has gained significance in light of declining regional populations. (1) Against this overall background, the economics domain of AMA organized a two-day conference on immigration and out-migration in Halifax in mid-November, 2004. Not only was this the first major event of its kind put together by AMA, but it was the first pan-Canadian conference centred on immigration issues held in Atlantic Canada. It drew presenters and participants from across Canada and the United States; about 250 delegates from academia, the public service, NGOs, communities, and industry were registered. This article summarizes some of the major themes discussed at the conference, particularly those with a distinctly Atlantic flavour.
A plenary panel of three speakers opened the conference, providing some background information on attracting and retaining immigrants. Barry Chiswick (University of Illinois) summarized his research on economic factors and linguistic concentrations, or enclaves. His analysis applies to countries that face the challenge of lopsided regional distribution of immigrants. New immigrants tend to settle near ports of entry, near clusters of previous immigrants of similar origin, and where employment opportunities are best. This pattern results from economies in communication, information, consumption, and the labour market.
So-called ethnic goods are also important in location choice. (2) Ethnic goods obey the laws of economies of scale, whereby the full cost of their production goes down as the size of the consuming immigrant (ethnic) group increases. An immigrant would be indifferent between working in two alternative areas only if the area with the high cost ethnic goods (lower concentration ratio) provided a higher nominal wage. This has several important policy implications for Atlantic Canada, given its lower immigrant concentration ratio. One is that the region should help remove barriers to labour market integration of immigrants by improving the foreign credential recognition process. Another is that immigrant recruitment should be based on skill shortages in the region, since scarcity of skills usually means higher nominal wages. A third is that established immigrants can play an important role in helping new immigrants become settled in their new homes. Many NGOs in Atlantic Canada are run, at least in part, by immigrants who have already experienced the settlement process, are already established, and are well qualified to help others. Finally, promoting cultural events for different ethnic communities could result in a more comfortable environment for newcomers.
Don De Voretz (Simon Fraser University) addressed the issue of immigrant retention in terms of a brain circulation model, under which immigrants enter a niche area where they receive subsidized human capital in the form of education, language training, and skill certification. Analyzing data for Quebec, which has difficulty retaining its immigrant population, he suggests that the decision to move or stay in any niche area depends on the rewards earned from this acquired human capital in the niche area (Quebec) or in the rest of Canada. …