OTTAWA -- Europe's crisis may be Manitoba's economic ticket. A consortium of Winnipeggers of Mediterranean heritage is working with the provincial government on an immigration push in some of the most economically challenged countries in southern Europe.
The Mediterranean Immigration Initiative will launch in 2013, seeking workers with specific skills from Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal. The strategy will use the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program, which allows the province to identify and recruit workers to fill specific needs in Manitoba.
"This would help us in many, many respects," said Mario Audino, public relations officer for the Italian Canadian League of Manitoba. "Over the last 25 years there have been very (few) immigrants from Italy."
Audino said with the European debt crisis and economic woes making it very difficult for young people to find jobs, Canada has an appeal it didn't have to European youth even 10 years ago.
These four countries are among the hardest hit by the European debt crisis. Unemployment for young people is catastrophic -- more than 33 per cent in Italy and Portugal and more than 50 per cent in Spain and Greece.
Audino said there have been a number of young Italians who arrived in Manitoba in recent years as tourists or on other short-term visas who end up wanting to stay. Coupled with a desire of the aging and shrinking Winnipeg Italian community to revive itself, several Italian organizations approached Manitoba Immigration Minister Christine Melnick to ask for help.
Audino said she encouraged them to form a committee with other communities to work on a Mediterranean Immigration Initiative. Representatives from the four communities are seeking input now from businesses looking for workers. An information meeting is scheduled for Jan. 16.
Audino said there have been requests for workers in construction trades such as concrete work and bricklaying, as well as authentic Italian chefs who know how to make "real Italian food" rather than what passes for Italian food in many North American establishments, Audino said.
Audino said young people from southern Europe are ideal candidates for immigration because they almost all speak English or French or both, and many are university-educated but can't find a job at home.
Fanny Levy, director of the provincial nominee program, said there hasn't been active immigration from those four countries for years.
Since 2000, 37 immigrants have arrived from Greece, 236 from Italy, 103 from Portugal and 36 from Spain. They account for just 0.36 per cent of the 113,378 immigrants who arrived in Manitoba between 2000 and 2011.
The Philippines, India and China account for nearly two-thirds of all immigrants in recent years.
This is only one of several immigration programs that target specific countries of origin.
Last June, a Manitoba delegation went to Ukraine for a week looking to recruit up to 65 families to fill labour shortages in Morden and Winkler. In October, Manitoba invited employers to set up booths to attract workers at an emigration expo in Dublin, Ireland. The premier's trade mission this fall included a recruitment mission for immigrants in China. And Manitoba has participated in a program seeking francophone immigrants from France and Belgium.
Manitoba can approve 5,000 applications under the provincial nominee program each year.
When the spouses and children of the applicants are included, the number of people who move to Manitoba through the program exceeds 11,500. Provincial nominees made up more than three in four of the 15,000-plus immigrants who arrived in Manitoba last year.