Newcomers say Manitoba’s nominee program penalizes them for studying, working elsewhere

Some newcomers who recently moved to Manitoba believe they are being unfairly penalized by the provincial nominee program.

A crowd of about 400 people gathered for a rally at the Punjab Cultural Centre in Winnipeg on Monday afternoon, protesting what they say is punishment the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program is handing down to people who have studied or worked elsewhere before coming to Manitoba.

More than 100,000 people have come to Manitoba through the nominee program, but people like Ashish Kumar feel the standards continue to rise and are too strict.

Kumar moved from India to Toronto in July 2018 for academics. He also worked in southern Ontario before moving to Manitoba in March 2021.

He works full-time as a mixer at a bakery, and makes extra money as a part-time Uber driver.

But with Kumar’s open work permit set to expire in December, he worries his dreams of becoming a realtor and a restaurant owner in Winnipeg may not come to fruition.

“I’m getting late in my career. I want to be realtor. I want to open my business,” Kumar said.

He says he had accrued 809 points through the nominee program’s points grid — which has a maximum potential for 1,000 points — but 100 points were deducted because he studied in another province and another 100 points were deducted for working in another province before coming to Manitoba.

Now sitting with 609 points, Kumar doesn’t qualify for permanent residency in Canada through the nominee program’s latest draws.

“I don’t want to leave this country because this country give me a lot, and I want to stay in this country because … it’s good for my future,” he said.

Kumar is losing hope, but he’s not the only one.

Prince Bhatia has also been in Manitoba since March 2021, arriving after a stint studying and working in British Columbia. He said he moved east to Manitoba because it’s a developing province full of opportunity.

His work permit isn’t set to expire until March 2024, but with the qualifications for permanent residency rising, he’s already worried he might have to move back home to India.

More points needed for the dream

The uncertainty of his situation is impacting his mental health, and affecting his sleep.

“Last night also, I was only able to sleep for two hours. I wake up to in the morning and after that when everything sticks in the mind, it was very difficult for me to sleep,” Bhatia said. “To be honest, I’m taking stress pills also.”

The two jobs he’s working — issuing parking tickets and as a security guard — aren’t career ambitions for Bhatia.

He wants to start his own business, but said he’s shocked as more and more points are needed to stay in Canada — and realize his dream.

A man stands in a room of people.
Prince Bhatia came to Manitoba two years ago from British Columbia. Worried about gaining permanent residency in Canada through the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program is causing him undue stress. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Like Kumar, Bhatia was dinged 200 points on his nominee program score.

“I don’t know what’s the issue is. It’s their problem, they have to deal with it,” he said of the provincial nominee program.

Minimums rising

Simran Sharma helped organize Monday’s event after connecting with others who are waiting for permanent residency.

The 25-year-old came to Manitoba from India almost five years ago, and spent two-and-a-half years in B.C. She too had 200 total points deducted due to risk factors, such as studying or working outside the province.

A woman stands, looking straight ahead.
Simran Sharma helped organize Monday’s gathering at the Punjab Cultural Centre in Winnipeg. (Travis Golby/CBC)

“I was left with no hope,” Sharma said. “I was so stressed out. I was having no hope that I could live here.”

Like Bhatia, she noticed qualification for residency through the provincial nominee program’s points grid has risen in recent years, and sometimes exceeds 750 when it used to hover around the 600 range.

“We are expecting that still we’ll get a chance. But we are not. We are left with no hope. We tried every possible outcome … trying to reach immigration minister of Manitoba,” Sharma said. “We were trying to reach all the MLAs, MPs that how could they help us?”

NDP MLA Diljeet Brar attended Monday’s rally.

He says the provincial nominee program needs an overhaul to avoid Manitoba seeing an exodus of skilled workers leaving.

“They decided to move to Manitoba. They decided to pay taxes and they are still willing to make Manitoba home, but there is something that’s not favourable to their journey,” Brar said.

In recent months, the number of people who qualify for the nominee program has risen, and there are currently over 17,000 profiles created, according to an email from a provincial government spokesperson.

The high number of profiles reflects an increase in interest by qualified candidates for the program — one year after Manitoba saw a record number of nominees, the spokesperson added.

A scarcity of nomination spots led to a high minimum point score, the spokesperson said, and the province has asked the federal government to increase the number of allocated spots for the program.

In February 2022, the Manitoba Immigration Advisory Council was formed to explore ways to improve the province’s current immigration policies and programs, including reviewing the entire nominee program points system. A report on the advisory’s council’s findings is expected to be released soon, the spokesperson said.

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