Quebec budges a bit on immigration
Could accept 60K a year by 2027, but with strict French requirements
Quebec could increase the total number of permanent immigrants entering the province to 60,000 a year by 2027 even if Premier François Legault has said in the past such a scenario would be suicidal for the future of French.
But Quebec has also announced plans to impose strict new French language requirements in the category of economic immigrants, which it controls alone. Economic immigrants are defined as skilled workers, investors and entrepreneurs.
To be imposed by soon-to-be-published regulations, this category of immigrant will require an oral and written Level 7 of French (advanced intermediate) to even apply to move to Quebec. The list is broken down based on skill sets. Level 7 would apply to people like engineers, technicians, professors, graphic artists, teachers and nurses.
Level 5 French (intermediate; oral only) will suffice for workers in less skilled positions. Hospital orderlies, cooks and truck drivers are the examples given.
There are exceptions for people with what the government defines as “rare and unique” talents or expertise that could potentially contribute to the prosperity of Quebec, such as a world-class maestro or brain surgeon, or a Montreal Canadiens hockey recruit.
But overall the stated goal is that 96 per cent of economic immigrants — which does not include refugees and people eligible for family unification — know French by 2027.
“For the first time in the history of Quebec, candidates for economic immigration must have a knowledge of French to qualify for selection,” Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette said at a news conference Thursday to announce the plan.
“We are going to require a knowledge of oral French but in certain cases written, too.”
Legault was on hand as was the minister of the french language, Jean-françois Roberge.
To get there, Quebec plans to scrap its existing economic immigrant program, the Regular Skilled Worker Program, replacing it with the Programme de sélection des travailleurs qualifiés (PSTQ). Gone, too, is old points grid, which used to determine an immigrant's eligibility based on factors such as education, experience, age, children and whether they had an employment offer. The grid did not have a minimum French proficiency requirement.
And without dwelling on a failed attempt by her predecessor Simon Jolin-barrette to reform the popular Quebec Experience Program (PEQ) which helped foreign students become Quebec residents, Fréchette sweeps it under the rug, dropping the specific list of academic categories he wanted to impose. Softening his reform further, Fréchette said candidates will no longer have to have a year's worth of experience in a job and be employed to qualify for the program.
There is, however, a new French language requirement with candidates required to have taken three years of secondary or post-secondary courses in French to apply. And unless they take their courses in French in English institutions like Dawson College or Mcgill University, they will be required to study in francophone institutions.
But the showstopper of the day was the government's masterful flip-flop on the number of immigrants Quebec can handle a year.
Despite statements during the election by Legault that a hike in new arrivals beyond the current 50,000 a year would be “suicidal” for the future of French, Fréchette tabled a discussion paper outlining two scenarios including an increase for 2024-2027.
The first scenario is 50,000 a year for each of the next four years, but a second scenario says Quebec could accept 50,000 in 2024, 54,000 in 2025, 57,000 in 2026 and 60,000 in 2027.
Fréchette will hold parliamentary consultations on the document in the early fall with groups to be invited to give their opinions on the proposal.
Asked at the news conference about the change of attitude, Legault said the situation has changed.
“From the moment we are able, and there is a real openness on this from the federal government, to say the increase is for only francophones and people who master French, that completely changes the situation, which is why we tabled this second scenario,” Legault said.
In the last few months, Legault has said he would like to see the category of economic immigrants, which represent 60 per cent of the total — be 100 per cent francophone or French-speaking by 2027.
In a message in the document, Fréchette says Quebec's immediate objective is for 96 per cent of economic immigrants to speak French. She said the “objective is unprecedented.”
“Immigration is a potential solution to the decline of French and our government will do everything in its power in the coming months to ensure it is,” Fréchette writes.
On Thursday, Quebec's business lobby welcomed the news Quebec is now open to increasing the number of immigrants. It has been calling for an increase for years to help cope with labour shortages.