Experienced tile setter brings family to Canada through RNIP
Petro Stryiskyi still vividly remembers the day five years ago when he decided to leave his country and his construction business behind for a chance at a better life for his family. With more than 20 years of experience, he took a job as a tile setter and dreamed of the day his family would join him in Canada.
Then, in September of 2021, Petro says the family was finally reunited, and it’s all thanks to the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot.
Immigrating to Canada as a skilled worker
After graduating from college in 2001, Petro worked for a construction company in Ukraine before starting his own interior renovation company. Alongside his business partner and five employees, Petro’s crew became renowned for their craftsmanship and had a waitlist that reached several months into the future.
“It wasn’t only tile setting,” Petro says. “We did everything inside. Taping, painting, tiles, flooring, everything. Construction in Ukraine is very different from Canada. Usually, our customers wanted to find one company that could do everything inside.”
One day, Petro says, his business partner hopped on a plane to visit a friend in the Okanagan.
“After he returned, he told me that we had a chance to get to Canada. His friend was doing some big project downtown and was looking for some tile setters,” Petro says. “From that moment, we both went back to school to start learning English.”
RNIP helps bring the family together
In 2018, Petro arrived in the Okanagan with a work permit and started working with a local construction company. After 18 months in Canada, Petro knew he wanted to stay and bring his family. But, with a looming expiration on his work visa and no clear path to extend his stay, he didn’t know how.
And then his employer heard about the RNIP program, and Petro had an ember of hope. In September 2021, shortly after he received his permanent residency, his wife, Kateryna Stryiska and their two kids joined him, and the Okanagan immediately felt like home.
“I was born in Crimea and spent all my childhood there, but after the annexation, I couldn’t be there anymore,” says Kateryna. “Here, all the nature, it’s so close to Crimea. It reminds me of my childhood back home.”
Setting roots in the Okanagan
Now living in Lake Country and running his own company STR Okanagan Taping, Petro keeps busy as a contractor and still does regular work for his former employer.
Their son will soon graduate from high school and has applied to university to study business and finance, while their daughter is settling into their new neighbourhood.
“At first, our son was a bit confused about what we were going to do here,” says Petro. “Now he understand the opportunity he has and says he doesn’t ever want to go back to Ukraine.”
“Because of this program, our family is now in a safe place, together.”
Want to learn more about how the RNIP program can help bring skilled trades workers to the North Okanagan? Head to the link below for more information.
RNIP helps Vernon construction company hire three qualified workers
There’s an untapped market for North Okanagan and Shuswap trades employers looking for skilled workers. And, with the help of a pilot program that bridges the gap between local businesses and experienced candidates, it’s a market that’s within reach.
Just ask Cory Petty, owner of Cory Petty Construction, about his experience with the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot program.
“Lots of other businesses I talk to are short staffed or they’re just way too busy. They need more people, and they can’t find them. You hear that a lot these days,” says Petty. “All of the people that I’ve had go through the program, they’re here because they want to work. They work hard and prove that they deserve to be here.”
Fast track to permanent residency
Initially launched as a three year pilot in Stage 1 communities in 2019, and in Stage 2 communities like the North Okanagan in 2020, the RNIP program helps communities and businesses benefit from the immigration of skilled workers by creating a path to permanent residency. The North Okanagan was selected as one of the two communities in B.C., and one of 11 in Canada, and the program was extended until August 2024 with the last Letter of Recommendation to be issued to candidates by the end of February 2024.
For Petty, his long-time employee and friend Luiz Fernando de Paula is a perfect example of what’s possible with the program. The pair met more than six years ago during de Paula’s first week in the country. A skilled carpenter visiting Canada from Brazil on a work permit, de Paula was brought on board to support a two-year construction project in Calgary.
“After the project, Cory said he’d be glad to have me working with him forever, but they were moving back to Vernon. I stayed in Calgary for a year and Cory promised to call when he had a good project,” says de Paula, now a supervisor with Cory Petty Construction. “One day, I was with my friend, and we were talking about my options to stay in the country. I was running out of time to immigrate. He told me about the RNIP program. In the same week the program launched, Cory gave me a call and asked if I would want to move to Vernon.”
Petty and de Paula met Ward Mercer, RNIP regional coordinator for the North Okanagan, and de Paula soon became one of the first applicants to pass through the program and receive permanent residency.
“It felt awesome. This was the goal when I moved to Canada. My wife and I love the countryside and the outdoor activities here. The Okanagan has been amazing for us,” says de Paula. “I’m reaching my goals thanks to Cory and the RNIP program.”
Simple and smooth hiring process
After their first meeting with Mercer, Petty says he attended an employer training session that taught him more about the program and how it works. With Mercer acting as his guide every step of the way, Petty made quick work of the paperwork before Mercer double-checked everything was in order.
“It seems like Ward did a lot of the work,” Petty says. “It was really easy.”
RNIP job board helps find good people
Inspired by de Paula’s success with the program, Petty decided to advertise a job through the RNIP job board. He hired de Paula’s wife, also a carpenter, and then used the program again to bring one other carpenter and a receptionist on board. Why? Because each time Petty used the RNIP program, he was able to hire good, qualified people to help him grow his company.
“When you put your job ad on the RNIP website, you’re going to get hundreds of qualified applicants. I wanted to physically meet people before I offered them a job through the program because I wasn’t as open to meeting over the phone,” says Petty. “All of the people I’ve considered through the program happened to already be in Canada on work permits. Now, they’re part of our family. They’re friends as well as coworkers, and they all deserved the chance to be able to stay here.”
Since launching in our community in 2020, the RNIP program has supported more than 200 local businesses like Petty’s, welcoming more than 300 skilled workers into the North Okanagan and Shuswap.
With three successful hires through the program and plans for a fourth this year, Petty has a message for other trades businesses struggling to hire good people during the worker shortage.
“Trades business owners should be open to trying out the RNIP program. They’d be surprised at how much good it can do for them.”
Learn more about the RNIP program, eligibility requirements for employers and how RNIP can help grow your trades business at the link below:
'We can stay here': RNIP helps skilled IT worker bring family to Vernon
A smile flashes across Jorel Aguiluz’s face. Vernon is home, he says, and he and his wife can’t wait to start a family here.
Warm light illuminates Aguiluz’s office at Community Futures North Okanagan. It’s a sunny afternoon in the late Okanagan summer, and it’s the couple’s favourite time of year to explore the Valley and vineyards they love.
But if you had asked Aguiluz about his plans for the future a year ago, his answer might have been quite different. Aguiluz, a technical account executive at SysGen Solutions Group with more than 10 years of experience in IT, had reached a crossroads.
After studying at Okanagan College in Kelowna and working in construction, he had landed a good job at SysGen – a managed IT services provider that also offers solutions in network administration and design, virtualization, IT infrastructure, cloud computing and data management. But, with only a post-graduation work permit in his name, his wife was still stuck in the Philippines.
“I heard about the RNIP (Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot) program through my client, Community Futures North Okanagan. They asked me if I wanted to apply, but I didn’t accept their offer at first,” says Aguiluz. “My wife had been applying for work and tourist permits, but we couldn’t get her here.”
So, in November 2020, after more than a year of working in IT in the Okanagan, Aguiluz made the difficult decision to leave his new home behind and return to the Philippines. But, by May 2021, Aguiluz knew he wanted to bring his family back to Canada. And this time, he had the right avenue to do it.
After submitting the RNIP paperwork in June 2021, Aguiluz received authorization from the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in September 2021. And his wife came with him.
Sitting in his SysGen office at Community Futures North Okanagan more than a year after getting approved by the IRCC and six months after the couple got permanent residency status, Aguiluz is finally at ease.
“It feels so much better. I can work and do anything I want to now,” Aguiluz beams. “We can stay here. We’re not worried anymore.”
For Aguiluz, that means continuing to work at SysGen and using his decade of experience in IT to help non-profits, entrepreneurs and local organizations of all sizes strengthen their business with managed IT services.
“Clients who had worked with Jorel previously were very happy to have him back and new clients love his very personable approach to IT support,” says Ben Mihailescu, field services manager, SysGen.
“Jorel is as genuine as they come and gets along with everyone he meets. We really appreciate him as an employee because he can connect with our clients in the Okanagan and solve complex technology problems in plain language for everyone to understand.”
When he isn’t using his love of tech to help fill the growing demand for IT workers in Canada, Aguiluz and his wife love enjoying the Okanagan lifestyle.
“It’s really nice here with all the vineyards, the beautiful nature and lakes. And we have several outdoor activities we like during the summer. Sometimes we go biking or go to wineries, but my wife loves apple picking, cherry picking and any sort of fruit picking,” Aguiluz says.
As the couple settles down and enjoys life in the Okanagan, Aguiluz says they plan on applying for citizenship and are trying to save up to buy their first house so they can grow their family.
But, before that, Aguiluz says they have one more goal they want to achieve.
“We’re planning on bringing my sister and my parents here, even just as tourists, so they can see how beautiful the Okanagan is,” Aguiluz smiles.
The RNIP is made possible through funding from the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia.
‘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
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?”