HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia set a new immigration record in 2018 -- and the final numbers for December aren't even in yet.

The province's Office of Immigration confirmed Tuesday that 5,645 immigrants were granted permanent residency by the end of November of last year -- already ahead of the record set in 2016 at 5,485.

The new number represents more good news for a province that has struggled for decades to boost its population and its workforce.

"Interest in Nova Scotia continues to grow as we attend international missions," Tracey Taweel, the office's CEO, said after making a presentation to the legislature's human resources committee.

Late last month, Statistics Canada confirmed that for the first time in a generation, Nova Scotia's population growth was almost keeping pace with the national average.

The federal agency said the province's population had risen for the third consecutive year, adding more than 10,000 residents in the past year alone. The total population as of Oct. 1 was 964,693 -- a record high.

The 2.8-per-cent increase over three years represents a bigger jump than the province has seen over the previous 24 years, according to provincial figures.

Immigration was the key driver.

Taweel said Nova Scotia has made a concerted effort to target immigrants from certain countries, particularly when it comes to skilled workers looking for a new life.

"It's allowed us to show up in international markets in a way that we've never done before," Taweel said.

"This province wants immigrants. For people looking to make a change, they look for that kind of information and they see Nova Scotia as a place that will welcome them."

The Office of Immigration says Nova Scotia saw 15,000 immigrants arrive over the past three years, with 71 per cent of them deciding to stay in the province.

Nova Scotia has the highest retention rate among the Atlantic provinces, but that rate hasn't changed since 2005.

More importantly, the province is keen to learn why it continues to lose about 30 per cent of the immigrants it attracts every year. The results of a so-called "stayers and leavers" study is expected to be released later this year.

"We do need to dig further into that," Taweel said.

Still, the latest numbers are impressive.

While the province's immigration levels hovered around less than 3,000 annually between 2007 and 2014, the numbers have jumped in the past three years, mainly because provincially supported applications have soared from 309 in 2008 to more than 2,200 in 2018.

In the past four years, foreign nationals from a handful of countries have accounted for two thirds of the landed immigrants: India (29.6 per cent), China (17.4), Philippines (12.2), Nigeria (4.3) and the United Kingdom (3.1).

In March 2017, the federal government launched the Atlantic Immigration Pilot program, which helps registered employers -- 737 are in the program -- recruit skilled workers and students from other countries.

Taweel said the federal program has helped Nova Scotia endorse 1,073 workers -- more than 800 of them endorsed last year alone. Not all of them have arrived in Nova Scotia yet.

Despite increasing tensions at the federal level regarding immigration policies, Taweel said opinion polling in Nova Scotia suggests residents remain open to increased immigration.