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(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine)

A successful program that brought hundreds of Russian Jewish immigrants to Nova Scotia has come to an unexpected halt. As I reported in Tablet in July 2014, the Atlantic Jewish Council has attracted more than 300 Israeli Jews with roots in the former USSR to Halifax, helping boost the city’s once-stagnant Jewish population. But a change in immigration policy has meant that support from the AJC will no longer help secure entry into Canada for potential immigrants.

“It’s sad and disappointing for us,” said Edna LeVine, the organization’s director of community engagement. “At this time we are at a stand-still.” She added, “It’s been one year since we’ve been able to interview any new candidates, and with the processing time that each applicant takes that means in a couple of years we will have a big gap—if we continue at all.”

In Canada, immigration is a shared federal and provincial responsibility, with the feds setting rules and targets and then entering into individual agreements with the provinces. Immigration is based on a points system; under the now-defunct Community-Identified Stream, which was part of the Provincial Nominee Program, support from a community translated into points for a potential immigrant. Nova Scotia immigration minister Lena Diab told me last year that the federal government “wanted the provinces to eliminate community-identified streams.” The current provincial replacement program, a pilot called Nova Scotia Demand: Express Entry (NSDEE), does not give any weight to support from community groups such as the AJC.

On a national level, though, Express Entry, which launched January 1, 2015, doesn’t seem to be performing well. According to the Toronto-based Globe and Mail, the program is failing to meet its targets. And a recent article in the same paper paints a desperate picture of the future of Nova Scotia without increased immigration. The province’s population has been falling since 2011, and ranks second only to Florida for having the highest proportion of residents over age 65.

“Our program was a success because we facilitated settlement. We welcomed these families and provided a community connection,” LeVine explained. “We had a very high retention rate, with most of the candidates we identified remaining here in Halifax. They have been successful in settling, purchasing homes, and getting jobs—which is exactly what the provincial government is looking for.”

LeVine said that since NSDEE is a pilot, she hopes to see changes to the program that would allow the AJC to start recruiting again.

Kelly Bennett, a spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration, said in an email, “We are closely monitoring the performance of NSDEE, and we will make program adjustments, if needed.” But the province’s hands may be tied. She added, “all changes to the Nova Scotia Nominee Program must be negotiated with, and approved by, the federal government. We cannot change the selection criteria for NSDEE without the support of Citizenship and Immigration Canada.”

Bennett also added that “the AJC is playing an important role in helping us identify suitable candidates.”

On the phone with LeVine, I asked her if that’s true—and there’s a long silence. Then she asked me to read Bennett’s statement again.

“We need to have another meeting with the Office of Immigration, because Express Entry has been in place for three months, and we’d like to meet with them. We are hopeful that now they might be able to find a way that we fit,” she said. “That’s basically the same thing we were waiting for before.”

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