“On your knees”: restaurant owner denounces changes to New Brunswick immigration program

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Michael Petrovici in an undated image.Michael Petrovici/The Canadian Press

When Michael Petrovici posts a job offer for one of his restaurants in northern New Brunswick, he’s lucky if he receives just one application.

“It’s very, very difficult to recruit people locally,” said the entrepreneur, who owns a fast-food restaurant, a coffee shop and a full-service restaurant in Bathurst.

The small Baie des Chaleurs town is fast becoming the epicenter of Canada’s restaurant industry labor shortage after the province suspended a popular immigration stream used by businesses to lure workers. workers in the region.

“We were already in difficulty before. Now it’s just impossible for us,” Petrovici said. “I don’t know how we’re going to spend the summer.”

At issue is a decision by the New Brunswick government to suspend the province’s Express Entry stream, which is part of the Provincial Nominee Program.

Arlene Dunn, minister responsible for immigration for the province, said the application process had been temporarily suspended to ensure the needs of all sectors were met after a significant increase in demand.

“If this were allowed to continue, under the current circumstances, the high demand on our existing programs would jeopardize immigration access for certain sectors … such as internationally trained nurses or international students who are currently in the New Brunswick,” she said in a letter. to Mr. Petrovici in response to his concerns.

The Canadian Press contacted New Brunswick government departments that oversee immigration, economic development and business for comment, but did not receive a response.

Restaurants across the country are facing a labor shortage.

The sector has been hit by two years of pandemic shutdowns, repeated layoffs and strict capacity limits. About 13,000 restaurants across the country have closed permanently and many workers have left the industry altogether.

“The restaurant industry has been the hardest hit in terms of job losses as a result of COVID,” said Restaurants Canada vice-president for Atlantic Canada, Richard Alexander.

“The impact is even greater in Atlantic Canada due to our unique labor challenges.

Bathurst, for example, has a median age of 53, more than a decade older than the Canadian median age of 40.4, according to Statistics Canada.

“Population aging makes it difficult to find workers,” Petrovici said. “Rural areas are increasingly disadvantaged.”

Yet New Brunswick experienced a mini population boom during the pandemic.

The province added 15,000 newcomers in just 12 months — the fastest population growth rate since 1976 — reaching 800,000 people, the province announced in March.

Still, Petrovici, which owns a Pita Pita franchise, Kaffeine cafe and full-service restaurant Au Bootlegger, said it still couldn’t find enough workers to staff its restaurants.

“We’re in crisis mode and it’s going to get worse,” he said. “The labor shortage is a truly dire situation.”

Given recent changes to the province’s immigration program, he said four of his employees will be leaving New Brunswick.

‘I am on my knees,’ he said in a letter to Ms Dunn. “We already have a mountain ahead of us in small rural communities just to attract newcomers.

Changes to the immigration program suspended applications for food service supervisors, counter attendants and restaurant services indefinitely, he said.

“We feel like we’re treated like a second-class company,” Mr. Petrovici said.

In her letter to Mr. Petrovici, Ms. Dunn suggested that he consider the federal temporary foreign worker program.

But Petrovici said he doesn’t have the resources to pursue other immigration streams, which are more complicated to navigate and require labor market assessments.

“Maybe if you own a big business with 20 franchises and can afford to pay for consultants, it might be worth it,” he said. “But we’re just a mom and pop shop.”

Mr. Petrovici said he was told that one of the problems was a delay in the federal allocation of nominees – the number of foreign workers the province is able to welcome each year.

Rémi Larivière, spokesman for the federal Department of Immigration, said stipends for 2022 were delayed due to the 2021 federal election, the conflict in Ukraine and ongoing pandemic challenges.

Still, he said all provinces and territories participating in those immigration programs have been told they can expect, at a minimum, the same number of stipends they received in 2021.

“They kind of passed the buck to the federal immigration office [department]said Mr. Petrovici. “I don’t know what the problem really is, but we need a solution.”

He added: “All we need and want is to be able to keep our doors open.”

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