In Brief: Immigration continues to be an important public policy issue for the Atlantic region because of its declining population. AIMS acting President Charles Cirtwill says one of the major barriers to increasing immigration is a system that seeks “ideal” candidates instead of trying to match people to open poisitions.

A Fredericton restaurateur says governments need to do more to help immigrants flourish when they move to areas outside larger centres.

Since landing in the city two years ago from Montreal and opening his downtown restaurant Chez Riz, Rizwan Ul-Haq has built a loyal clientele. But he said he’s worried that leaving the big city for Fredericton might have been his “big mistake.”

Staff members who moved to Fredericton with him have all left. He can’t find cooks experienced in his restaurant’s specialty who are already in Canada and willing to move to Fredericton.

And, his efforts to bring in cooks from Pakistan on visas have been rejected.

It’s making for a perfect storm for Ul-Haq. He’s working at least 14 hours a day, six days a week, and it’s taking a toll on his family life and his health, he said.

His most recent effort to bring a cook from Pakistan was again refused by the Canadian High Commission in Islamabad, he said.

“They say it’s because he has no degree,” said Ul-Haq, who travelled to Pakistan to see if his latest applicant lived up to expectations before making the request. “I’m not bringing someone who’s not going to work. I’m begging the Canadian government, the immigration minister to help me.

“When people come from another city or country, they are bringing a lot of hope. If (governments) helped them, more multicultural people would come.”

Ul-Haq said efforts to find cooks who specialize in Indian and Pakistani cuisine in Canada who want to move to Fredericton haven’t been successful.

“I’ve had my ad on the board at the unemployment centre for two years. The ad is across Canada and there’s been no interest,” he said.

According to figures released Tuesday by Statistics Canada, 97 per cent of immigrants are concentrated in the metropolitan regions of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

Demographic experts are predicting that by 2030, Canada’s population growth will be almost entirely dependent on immigration, and communities that don’t attract and retain newcomers will see steady declines in population.

Ul-Haq ran a business in downtown Montreal for more than 15 years before making the move to Fredericton.

“When I was in Montreal, there was no problem,” he said. “But here I work basically 14 to 16 hours a day.”

Ul-Haq brought kitchen staff with him from Montreal, but they didn’t stay long.

“They said they had to go back. They found it a small town,” he said.

Plus they had the benefit of an extended family network in Montreal.

Ul-Haq said he loves Fredericton, its quality of life and the future it offers his three children.

But he said it’s tough when he has no one else he can turn to for a few days off work. His doctor recently warned him to slow down.

So, he shut down his lunch-hour buffet because constantly replenishing 10 dishes was too much, he said.

Now he’s worried about the consequences if he doesn’t find another chef.

“If I get sick, the restaurant closes. If something happened and the restaurant closed because I couldn’t work, what would happen to my family?”

Ul-Haq said he’s tired of failed efforts to bring in cooks to help his business.

A request for comment from Citizenship and Immigration Canada wasn’t answered Tuesday.

Business New Brunswick Minister Greg Byrne, the minister responsible for the province’s Population Growth Secretariat, said he’ll ask staff to speak with Ul-Haq about the possibility of making an application under the provincial nominee program, a process that could help expedite efforts.

Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said this case illustrates the problems with the current immigration process which depends on a points system.

“We’re focusing too much on the immigrants we like as opposed to matching the immigrants with the opportunities.

“If there’s a vacancy here, and we can’t find people who can do that job here and who can be trained to do that job here, why shouldn’t we be allowing fast-tracked immigration to fill that position?”