SAULT STE. MARIE -- The first two applicants in Canada for the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot project, have been approved in the Sault.

Alexander Likilasua of Ghana and Brilla Kunjumon of India both attended Sault College's nursing program and with the help of the program, have been approved for permanent residency to live and work in the country.

"In taking part in this program, we realized that there were going to be some significant labour shortages in various sectors within the city, over the next few years," said Paul Sayers, Labour Force Coordinator with Future SSM at the city.

"This is an important step to help fill those gaps."

The program was launched in 2019 in the Sault and ten other communities across the country - several of those being in northeastern Ontario.

"So in our first batch in December, we provided several recommendations but Alex and Brilla's applications were the first to be approved for permanent residency by the federal government," Sayers said.

"It's a big milestone for us at the city."

For Likilasua, the approval is represents a heavy weight that's been lifted off his shoulders.

"I went to school here and everything, but now I know I'm part of Canada, makes me feel better," he said.

"It certainly helps me sleep better at night, knowing I won’t have any permits or visas expiring."

Likilasua says he first arrived to Canada by moving to Peterborough for school, but soon followed an uncle to Sault Ste. Marie.

"While my family has left, I've made a whole bunch of friends here that are like family, so I just kind of figured being here is one of the ideal things to do," he said.

According to the city, it's approved 43 more applicants through the program.

However, Sayers says they're still waiting on approval by the federal government, which he says is delayed due to COVID-19.