Patrick Grady
Is the Manitoba PNP Really Worth Crowing Over?
September 13, 2012

Op ed in Winnipeg Free Press, September 22, 2012

The Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program (PNP), which played a key role in helping to attract almost 16,000 immigrants to Manitoba last year, got a lot of press last April. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney touched off the controversy with his announcement that the Manitoba Government would no longer be on the receiving end of some $36 million for immigrant settlement services. The province reacted strongly claiming that this would ruin the program, which was critical for the province’s population and development strategy.

This largely turned out to be a tempest in a teapot as all the Federal Government wanted to do was to administer these programs the same way it was doing in every other province and territory outside Quebec and not to cut funding as the province feared. As is often the case in Canada, the media coverage focussed on the intergovernmental spat over who would get to spend the money and take the credit and not on the performance of the PNP itself. However, the key question was never asked, namely: is the Manitoba PNP really as successful as everyone seems to believe?

First some background from a recent federal evaluation. The Manitoba program is one of the earliest PNPs and can be considered something of a prototype for the others that followed. The agreement between the two governments was signed on October 22, 1996 and the program was launched in 1999. Given its head start, it is also one of the largest programs accounting for 39 per cent of the 33,722 principal applicant immigrants (PA) admitted through provincial nominee programs over the 2005 to 2009 period. In addition, it accounts for 13,089 or 91 per cent of principal applicant immigrants admitted to Manitoba in economic immigration categories so it has become the main instrument for selecting economic immigrants to Manitoba, largely displacing the Federal Skilled Worker Program in the province. And through family ties and networks, the PNP also leads to subsequent family class immigration.

While the federal evaluation, which was carried out by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and was published last November, isn’t really a very good evaluation, relying as it does on interviews with stakeholders who have an obvious interest in the continuation of the program and very incomplete and unsatisfactory data on the performance of principal applicants under PNPs maintained by the different participating provincial governments, it does contain some useful data from the Immigration Data Base (IMDB). This data cast doubt on the rosy picture painted by the federal and provincial enthusiasts of the Manitoba PNP (Table 1).

For all time horizons – 1 year after arrival, 3 years, and 5 years - principal applicants under the PNP residing in Manitoba had the absolute lowest employment income of those of any of the provinces. For example, after three years the average employment income of a PA in Manitoba was only $32,800 compared to $70,100 in Alberta, $57,600 in British Columbia, $53,600 in Saskatchewan, $50,800 in the Atlantic Provinces, and $35,600 in Ontario (this latter low figure primarily reflects secondary migrants not selected by Ontario). And while the income of a PA under the Manitoba PNP after three years of $32,800 may not look so low, it is important to remember that it is only for the PA, who typically earn the most of any category of immigrant. Their spouses and other family class immigrants usually earn much less, if employed, and are significantly less likely even to be in the labour force. (Unfortunately, earnings data for the other family members has not been compiled by either the Federal or Manitoba governments so it is impossible make meaningful comparisons of PNP family earnings with other Canadians.)

A more comprehensive indicator of the success of immigrants going to a particular province is the average employment income for all immigrants including family members earning employment income that can be tabulated from the Census (Table 2). It shows a big increase in the number of recent immigrants (defined as those landing in the four or five years ending in the year before the census reporting year with employment income and still residing in the province in the census year) in Manitoba from 8,420 in 2000 to 12,600 in 2005. This presumably reflects the stepped-up efforts under Manitoba’s PNP to bring immigrants to Manitoba after the program was initiated in 1999. However, while the average employment income of recent immigrants was slightly higher for the most recent cohort (arriving between 2001 and 2004), rising from $20,380 in 2000 to $21,307 in 2005, it did not keep pace with average employment earnings for non-immigrants in the province. While it would be inappropriate to make to much of this given the difference in size of the two cohorts (four years versus five), it is significant that recent immigrants to Manitoba continued to do worse than total recent immigrants to Canada only earning 88.9 per cent of all recent immigrants to Canada, which is up only slightly from 85.3 per cent before the introduction of the program. The Manitoba Government might be successful at attracting more immigrants, but the immigrants themselves are continuing to perform poorly in the labour market, actually doing worse than recent immigrants in the rest of the country.

A problem is that other provinces have been following Manitoba lead in aggressively pursuing the selection of economic class immigrants. And they are also likely to bring in lower-earning immigrants than the Federal Government as their PNPs ramp up.

Instead of remedying the poor performance of recent immigrants, the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program seems to be making the situation worse from both a provincial and national point of view.

Indeed the average employment income of immigrants arriving in Manitoba after the start of the PNP is so low as to give rise to concerns that the increasing number of immigrants the Manitoba government has been so successful in attracting are likely to end up costing both the provincial and federal governments far more in increased spending on social, health and other benefits than the governments will be able to collect in taxes and other revenues, leaving Canadian taxpayers to pick up the bill.

Given the likely fiscal cost of higher immigration to Manitoba, why is the Manitoba PNP considered such an unmitigated success that the Manitoba and Federal governments are fighting to take credit?

Table 1
Average PN (PA) employment earnings, by province of residence and years since landing (2000 to 2008 cohort)

Years since landing
Cohort 1 Year 3 Years 5 Years
Atlantic $36,900 $50,800 -
Ontario $27,500 $35,600 $40,200
Manitoba $26,800 $32,800 $36,900
Saskatchewan $41,000 $53,600 -
Alberta $67,100 $70,100 $57,500
British Columbia $59,500 $57,600 $54,700

Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Evaluation Division, Evaluation of the Provincial Nominee Program, September 2011. IMDB

Table 2
Average Employment Income of Recent Immigrants to Manitoba
2000 2005
Number with Employment Income 8,420 12,600
Avg. Employment Income $20,380 $21,307
Avg. Emp. Inc. as % of Non-Immigrants 75.5 68.0
Avg. Emp. Inc. as % of Recent Immigrants to Canada 85.3 88.9

Note: 'Recent immigrants' are those who arrived during the four or five-year period ending one year before the census year, i.e. the 1995 to 1999 period for the 2000 data and the 2001 to 2004 cohort for the 2005 data. They do not include those who arrived in the census year because many of these would not have had the opportunity to work for a full year.

Source: Statistics Canada, Tabulations from 2001 and 2006 Censuses.