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Opening the gates

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When Colorado resident Les Pedersen was offered a job last year as Westin’s head of sales in Whistler he decided to hit the Internet to check out how to apply for permanent resident status in Canada.

A former Canadian resident who spent his high school years in Ontario, he knew he wanted to stay in Whistler beyond what his one year work visa would allow. He came across a fledgling B.C. program that fast tracks immigration for professionals and skilled trades.

With a University of Denver economics degree and several years working for Disneyworld behind him Pedersen thought he’d be a likely candidate for the Ministry of Economic Development’s provincial nominee program that brings workers to B.C. in less than eight weeks. But Pedersen was surprised when a Vancouver immigration expert tried to dissuade him from applying to the program.

“Their comment to me was, ‘Les, the B.C. provincial nominee program is for nuclear physicists and you’re a sales and marketing executive — this is not for people like you.’”

B.C.’s Minister of Economic Development wants to change that image.

“We’ve been getting the word out through business associations,” said Colin Hansen, “and I rarely give a speech in the province to a business organization that I don’t talk about it.”

Hansen said the program is hiring seven new staff to bump up the number of applications processed.

Established in 1998 as a way to bring in health professionals like nurses, B.C.’s provincial nominee program was the first of its kind in Canada. The program now speeds up immigration applications for much-needed professions and trades in B.C. and aims to bring in 1,200 workers this year, a 30 per cent increase over 2005. Applicants like corporate managers, professionals such as architects and accountants, technologists like graphic artists, and skilled trades workers such as mechanics, carpenters and chefs can be accepted into the program as long as they have a job offer from a B.C. employer.

Working closely with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, program staff act as advocates for applicants, checking for errors on applications, spotting omissions and forwarding paperwork to CIC with bright day-glo BC PNP stickers attached.

Pedersen says staff were invaluable.

“They go through the whole application with a fine tooth comb,” he said. “I had filled out some questions incorrectly and hadn’t used all the correct forms. They make sure you’re using your forms correctly.”

Only half a dozen workers have come to Whistler through the program since its inception. Eighty per cent of applicants end up in the Lower Mainland.

“It comes down to getting the message out,” Hansen said. “It’s one of those things that feeds on itself, the more employers and employees that use the system do get the word out, but we are making a concerted effort to also get the word to non-Lower Mainland business organizations.”

Pedersen received permanent resident status approval within two months of applying. He now lives in Whistler with partner Jamie and their dog, Salty.

“He was the easiest thing of all — all he needed was a current rabies shot.”

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