As Nova Scotia struggles to swim out of the demographic and economic eddy we find ourselves in, we must extend a hand to all levels of immigrants.

If we do not accept that all skill levels are required to buoy business, the province will quickly find entrepreneurs unwilling to risk their own capital on the flimsy hope of maybe finding workers.

When the federal government cut back the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in a frenzied over-reaction to a handful of incidents last spring, many small businesses across our region found themselves scrambling to fill jobs.

Canada’s minister of employment and social development could not get his head wrapped around the notion that small businesses in areas of high unemployment could not find workers.

Jason Kenney, buying into an argument by labour unions, has suggested that allowing TFWs has suppressed wages, especially in the hospitality sector. We know from our small business members this has not been the case.

As young people flee Nova Scotia for the promise of greater wealth in the west, Minister Kenney’s ill-advised changes to the TFWP have cut off a vital lifeline for many employers in our region who struggle to find the workers they need.

Unless reasonable changes are made, businesses will shrink, move or die.

Minister Kenney has said businesses should pay more and let market forces set the wage structure. While that sounds like simple economics, the reality is most employers that have accessed TFWs have offered higher wages and have expanded their recruitment. They have done this without success and have applied to the TFWP only as a last resort.

In our latest report (Taking the Temporary Out of the TFW Program — Breaking myths about the shortage of labour and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program), CFIB is proposing concrete solutions to the federal government.

The report points to measures that will provide a path for permanent residence for workers who want to take a chance, come here, and work hard to make a new life for themselves and their families.

Geared towards entry-level workers, who are often shut out of our existing permanent immigration system, CFIB’s proposed Introduction to Canada Visa would the address critical shortages for small businesses in Atlantic Canada.

The proposed new visa would give foreign workers in entry-level categories an opportunity to work with an employer for two years as a defined step toward permanent residency.

Employers would be required to have one Canadian employee at same wage rate to qualify for one worker with an Introduction Visa. There would be a built-in ability for the visa holder to switch employers if commitments are not kept and strict national and provincial oversight.

It’s a proposal designed to address shortages in the labour force, solve issues of compliance, help reverse demographic decline and provide a pathway for entry-level workers to become new Canadians. All are laudable and needed goals.

The Nova Scotia government is re-tooling provincial immigration policy. Unfortunately, while the permanent immigration system often welcomes highly skilled workers into Canada, it largely prohibits anyone with more junior skill sets.

Atlantic Canada needs workers at all skill levels, including entry-level jobs, and that need isn’t going away.

While misconceptions and myths have made the TFW program an easy target for its opponents, the reality for our communities and economy is that we need workers of all skill levels. As out-migration continues and our demographic landscape changes, that need will become more pronounced.

Providing a proper avenue for potential Canadians to work and live here can only help us to sustain and grow our region. It will not destroy the region, as many would have you believe.