I Choose Montreal (ICM), a campaign created through partnership between the Quebec government, employers, and universities, aims to encourage international students to continue living in the city after graduation by easing the process of finding permanent work in Montreal. At McGill, the project works with the International Student Service and Career Planning Service to promote its newsletter and off-campus events, and to collaborate plans for on-campus activities about networking, internships, and other career opportunities.
Director Mathieu Lefort spearheaded ICM as a three-year program within the Montreal International (MI) non-profit organization, which is supported by the Canadian, Quebec, and Montreal governments as well as private funders. MI’s primary goal is to attract foreign wealth to the city. ICM functions under this mandate by growing the international workforce—particularly in burgeoning tech sectors—and in so doing, promote the international culture of Montreal and grow its economy. During his time in the economic development department of MI, Lefort contributed to a study about the importance of attracting and retaining international students.
According to Lefort, finding jobs and dealing with immigration are the two biggest challenges for students who settle in Montreal post-graduation. He hopes that connecting students with both will alleviate stress and increase retention rates.
ICM works to connect students with prospective employers. The organization visited McGill’s downtown campus 10 times since October 2016, and Lefort reports that their activities have filled classrooms with interested students. Director of Career Planning Service (CaPS) Darlene Hnatchuk works in conjunction with ICM.
“We want our students to benefit from as many networking opportunities as possible,” Hnatchuk said. “As a hub for career education, we have a role in bringing collaborations to life to support our students’ career and professional development. [ICM’s] programming complements what is offered at McGill.”
In 2015, almost 3,000 international post-secondary students were awarded Quebec Selection Certificates, allowing them to work in the province after completing their studies. This number increased in 2016, but Lefort envisions more growth in 2017.
“There is room for improvement [in post-graduation retention rates],” Lefort said. “We want to build on the momentum of the past year.”
ICM also partners with the provincial government to provide accurate, valuable information about the immigration process. Among other measures, ICM holds regular information sessions with the Quebec government to walk foreign students through the system.
Despite the obvious roadblocks to settling here, Montreal’s culture and prospering high-tech sectors can be extremely attractive for soon-to-be graduates. McGill computer science graduate student Sanjay Thakur is certain he will settle in the city after he completes his degree this year. He plans to work in artificial intelligence, an area that both the Canadian government and tech industry hope to expand in Montreal. Besides the promise of a fulfilling career, Thakur also enjoys Montreal for its community, culture, and environment.
“[Montreal] is affordable, public transport is so nice, people are amazing, there are so many parks […] the list goes on and on,” Thakur said. “I have nothing to hide when it comes to my love for this place.”
However, other international students have had issues with the climate and distance.
“The winters are too cold and too long, and even though the beautiful summer makes up for it, I do not want to live in a city where I know I will be too cold five months of the year,” Marine de Lamarzelle, U3 Arts, said. “Plus, I feel very close to my family and I do not like the idea of living far away from them.”
ICM has met with over 3,600 students in the past year and plans to continue on their trajectory for the remaining two years of the project. Additionally, given their success so far and the large foreign student presence in the city, Montreal International and the Quebec government may extend the I Choose Montreal program at the end of the three-year mandate.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Montreal International is managed by the Quebec government and that I Choose Montreal (ICM) holds information sessions with both the Quebec and Montreal governments. In fact, Montreal International is supported by the Canadian, Quebec, and Montreal governments as well as private funders and ICM only holds information sessions with the Quebec government. The Tribune regrets these errors.