A survey conducted in 2013 revealed that only 40 per cent of McGill undergraduates remained in Quebec after graduation. These results reflect a worrying trend in regards to the province’s ability to retain newcomers, a problem which is partly responsible for its steady decline in population growth rate. In an effort to alleviate this issue, Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil recently outlined a new policy aimed at streamlining the immigration process and improving the retention of foreign talent in the province. Parallel to Weil’s plans, proposals around immigration policies have been stirring up on the federal stage as well: Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship John McCallum has stated that the Liberal government will bring in up to 305,000 permanent residents by the end of 2016, with an increased focus on family reunification and refugee settlement.
The federal government’s decision to shift their priority from economic immigrants to families and refugees has attracted criticism. Since the main reason for economic migrants to come to Canada is in search of job opportunities, they are portrayed as benefitting the nation’s economy, which in turn will bring in more immigrants. But in the case of Quebec, the issue is not so simple due to strict language requirements. But as section 95 of the Canadian Constitution states, immigration policies are a shared responsibility between the federal and provincial governments. As such, it is possible that the federal government’s immigration policy will complement Quebec’s policy objectives—especially given the factors that cause new Canadians to leave Quebec.
In discussing the topic of immigration in Quebec, the elephant in the room must be addressed: The strict language requirements. Regardless of where one stands on the province’s voracious language debates, there is no denying that a primary cause behind the drain of new immigrants in the province are the poor career prospects offered to non-French speakers, which in turn contributes to declining economic growth. Quebec has one of the highest rates of unemployment amongst immigrants at 11.5 per cent. Bearing this in mind, it is unlikely that bringing in more economic migrants, who are by definition mainly looking for improved livelihood, will boost the province’s growth rate.
Instead, in order to reconcile the steep language requirements with the need to retain more foreigners, the provincial government must look to introduce other influences to make foreigners feel like they can make a permanent home in Quebec, despite initial challenges in the work field. Foreigners will only learn French and plan to integrate into the working world once they feel ready to fully settle down in the province. Family reunification is one effective way to facilitate this.
A good example of this can be seen through international students in Quebec. International students often come to the country without their parents or partners, and some of them eventually become permanent residents of Canada as well. These students may come to Quebec for schooling; however, without a solid foundation of family members in the province, it is difficult to view it as a home, and so they see it as a stepping stone towards graduation after which they leave to another province with better economic opportunities. If these students enjoy their lives in Quebec and could sponsor their families to live in the province as well, it would provide more incentive for them to stay and build a career, boosting the retention of foreign talent. In conjunction with Weil’s plans to smooth out the integration of immigrants into the province by providing more access to French education, increased settlements of families in Quebec can be a boon for the provincial growth rate.
The federal government’s plans to bring in more refugees can also work symbiotically with the provinces’ goal to retain more immigrants. Quebecers are already doing their part to welcome new Syrian refugees in the province and to make them feel at home. Community support and engagement with newcomers is an effective way to plant a long-term desire to become a part of the province.