SAULT STE. MARIE -- The federal government is shaking up an immigration pilot project that aims to attract new immigrants to rural and northern communities.

Applicants to the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot will no longer be required to have one year of continuous work in the three years preceding their applications. Instead, candidates will only be required to have one year of accumulative work, in order to ensure candidates are not penalized for short lapses in their work history.

"What we're hoping for is that every community that wants to welcome a newcomer with the talent and skills and the experience that they need in their local economy, especially in the healthcare sector, can do so through the rural and northern immigration pilot," said Marco Mendicino, Canadian Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.

The pilot is in 11 communities across the country, including the Sault, Sudbury, North Bay, Timmins and North Bay.

Mendicino said those waiting on approval for permanent residency from the government will also be able to apply for work permits without penalization.

With these changes, he said he's also hoping to add a virtual means to create a more efficient process.

"I think that we can take putting more of our processes online, digital and virtual, and seeing more newcomers welcomed under the RNIP," said Mendicino.

The first two successful candidates for the project live and work in Sault Ste. Marie.

In October, the city said it had 43 more candidates awaiting approval, which had been delayed due to the pandemic.

"We're working together to try and make it as efficient as possible," said Mayor Christian Provenzano. "We want to capitalize on it to the greatest degree possible."

Sudbury, North Bay and Timmins were all among the last few communities to launch the program this year, where applications are still underway.