Stories

‘It’s a huge relief’: Gifted teacher gets permanent residency through RNIP

It’s a community unlike any other.

That’s why, when Jess Chitty first arrived in the Okanagan and started working at Vernon Christian School, she knew she had to stay.

A teacher for more than seven years, Chitty heard about the Society of Christian Schools in British Columbia (SCSBC) while studying in Australia. Fast forward five years and with a two-year working holiday visa in hand, Chitty boarded a plane bound for Canada in March 2020, the day the international borders closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I had a summer job lined up, but because of the pandemic, there was a lot of uncertainty about whether or not I would be able to do that job,” says Chitty.

Thankfully, a friend in Manitoba had a place for her to stay. Within a few short months and an application to the SCSBC, Chitty lined up a job at Vernon Christian School, headed west and never looked back.

“The Society inspired me to want to teach and grow here. The community I’m in at Vernon Christian School is phenomenal; it’s unlike any community I’ve ever been in,” says Chitty. “To me, there’s nothing more purposeful or rewarding than investing in someone else’s life. The privilege of working alongside children and families, I don’t think anything else compares.”

Inspired by her rewarding career, newfound sense of community and the natural, four-season beauty of the Okanagan, Chitty decided to turn her two-year visa into a permanent move.

“I was seeking ways to apply for permanent residency and found that the online system was challenging to navigate,” says Chitty. “Trying to find avenues that I could take in my situation was difficult on my own.”

Chitty reached out to an immigration consultant in the summer of 2021 and soon learned about the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP)  program. Then, at the start of her third school year at Vernon Christian School, Chitty learned she would be able to stay.

“The IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) informed me that my application has been approved. I’m just waiting for my permanent residency card to come in the mail,” Chitty beams. “It feels amazing. It honestly is a huge relief to know that I can stay here long-term.”

Matt Driediger, principal at Vernon Christian School, couldn’t agree more.

“Jess is a passionate and gifted teacher. Students and colleagues thrive around her, impacted by her care and expertise. We are so grateful to have her in our school community,” says Driediger. “The RNIP program benefited us tremendously. It supported us in the process of demonstrating Jess’s value to our school and to Canada, and ultimately helped her achieve permanent residency so that she can continue serving on our staff and in the Vernon community.”

The RNIP program, Chitty says, has helped her to continue doing the work she loves in a community she’s proud to call her home.

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‘Part of our family’: RNIP empowers Vernon business to hire skilled workers

City Furniture and Appliances Vernon employees (left to right) Manpreet Singh Sidhu, Alexander Schoepp, Justin Sharma in their Vernon store.
City Furniture and Appliances Vernon employees (left to right) Manpreet Singh Sidhu, Alexander Schoepp, Justin Sharma in their Vernon store.

Justin Sharma has an easy response when asked why businesses should utilize the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot program: Why wouldn’t you?

The Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) aims to help smaller communities benefit from the immigration of skilled workers by creating a path to permanent residence. Vernon is one of two communities in BC and one of 11 in Canada to participate in the pilot. 

Through the pilot program, Sharma, whose family owns and operates City Furniture and Appliances Vernon, has welcomed three skilled employees to the team.

“The RNIP program is about finding experienced candidates who can apply their expertise in helping a business operate and grow.” says Sharma. He’s worked in other countries himself and appreciates what it means to be an inclusive employer who helps new team members integrate in the work family and the community.

“There’s now another way to connect with very skilled individuals who bring unique perspectives and create positive impact. In our case, these individuals have become part of our family.”

Germany native Alexander Schoepp joined the City Furniture Vernon team in August 2021. Schoepp says he first heard about the position while researching the RNIP program online, found a contact number, and cold-called Sharma. He and his family happened to be in Canada at the time. 

“I heard about the program and called Justin. We were spending time in Canmore, so we got the family into the car and drove,” says Schoepp. 

It was the perfect match. Schoepp and his family returned to Germany to pack up and move to the Okanagan. After a few short months, Schoepp is now a team leader in his role, bringing 15 years of retail management experience to City Furniture Vernon

In the Vernon – North Okanagan area and funded by the Government of Canada through Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) and the Province of British Columbia, RNIP empowers participants to integrate into their communities. After receiving a recommendation from the community, permanent residence status may be available within 12 months after applying through Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada. 

“As soon as we have permanent residency, we will start to look for a house. Permanent residency allows you to build your life and not just wait for clarity,” says Schoepp. “If it was just my wife and me, we’d be OK waiting. But, with two kids, you need that safety. I’m just happy.”

Manpreet Singh Sidhu’s journey with RNIP looked quite different.

Now the operations manager, Sidhu worked at City Furniture Vernon while studying business at university. After graduation, he sought a way to solidify his place in the community. Having had success with the RNIP program in the past, Sharma approached Ward Mercer, RNIP regional coordinator, to see if Sidhu’s unique situation would qualify for the program.

Sidhu was accepted through the program and recently became a permanent resident.

“I was on the edge at one point applying to extend my work permit, but now I’m feeling stress-free,” Sidhu smiles. “I’m at peace.”

Sidhu started working in the warehouse. Empowered by his business education, Sharma and RNIP, Sidhu worked his way through every department of City Furniture before becoming a pillar of the company.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself. Everyone is so helpful here. If you would have talked to me a few years ago, you would see the difference,” Sidhu says. “I’ve gained my confidence here. I’ve gained everything.”

As businesses struggle to hire skilled workers during the ongoing labour shortage, Sharma encourages other Vernon and North Okanagan business owners to reach out to Mercer and the RNIP.

“The RNIP empowers businesses to find that person who not only fulfils a need within the business, but can also positively impact the community as well,” says Sharma. He says City Furniture, co-founded by his father 45 years ago, was built on this ideal. “I guess the question is, why wouldn’t you use the RNIP program?”