THUNDER BAY – Aakash Rathod came to Thunder Bay from India three years ago to study aerospace engineering at Confederation College.
Before arriving in Canada, he’d lived in China and the United States, and quickly realized he’d found his home away from home on the shores of Lake Superior.
While in school he began working at an entry level position at Red Lion Smokehouse, rapidly working his way up to sous chef at the north-side restaurant.
After learning about the Thunder Bay Rural and Northern Immigration pilot program, and its goal of providing a path to permanent residency in Canada, both Rathod and his employer jumped at the opportunity to apply.
Today he’s one of 32 immigrants in the city, working at 16 different employers, who have received a community recommendation and is about to embark on the immigration process.
It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, he said.
“It’s a really great initiative with the government that they’ve done for immigrants who are coming toward Canada, who choose to live in small communities,” he said on Wednesday, at an outdoor event at Marina Park that included both local MPs and the mayor of Thunder Bay.
“Sometimes people find it hard to get to the government and look for their options to see if they can extend their living in Canada or something like that. This program has been so easy. Yes, it requires a lot of documents, but that’s completely fine with all the employers and employees.”
John Murray, owner of the Red Lion Smokehouse, said he’s had quite a bit of success with hiring students in college, which has proven to be a real catalyst to draw people into the city. It’s worked out well, with several now considered long-term employees.
“This is just a way to continue to support them. All the kids we have working for us we feel are real assets to the communities, so (the program) is something we really thought would be an easy fit to support them with their efforts to stay here permanently,” Murray said.
The program was a hit from the start.
Launched in partnership with the Community Economic Development Commission, a partnership with the federal government, as soon as it was announced Mayor Bill Mauro said interest was high from the get-go.
“I was getting emails from across the world coming into my email directly as the mayor. And I would just hit forward,” Mauro said.
Ultimately the goal is to help 300 workers on the path to permanent residency over the three-year course of the program.
Emily Lauzon, the CEDC’s workforce development officer, said the program has been a win-win in a city that needs to bring more people into the community.
“Maybe they’d never seen Thunder Bay before, or ever heard of it. And when they start looking at Thunder Bay, they’re seeing our beautiful scenery, clean air, lots of jobs available and maybe they’re thinking that’s a good opportunity and a better life for them.”
Lauzon said there are no financial incentives for businesses to hire workers under the program, and workers must be paid within the regional wage range for the occupation.