New study calls on Quebec to restore annual immigration target to 50,000

Stephen Smith
Published: March 14, 2019

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A new study is calling on Quebec's government to restore its immigration target of 50,000 newcomers a year. 

The study by the independent Institut de recherche et d'informations socio-économiques (IRIS) contends that the government's justification for reducing its immigration target for 2019 to 40,000 — that too many new arrivals are not integrating into Quebec society — "has never been established scientifically."

The study follows a series of controversial moves by the province's new Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government, including its recent effort to dismiss a backlog of just over 18,000 pending Quebec Skilled Worker Program applications as part of a proposed overhaul of the province's immigration laws known as Bill 9.

Written by researcher Julia Posca, the paper provides a statistical snapshot of indicators including mastery of French, education levels and employment rate to assess the CAQ's claims that immigrants have been falling short in these areas.

In terms of language, the study points to statistics from both Quebec's Immigration Ministry and the Institute de la statistique du Quebec that show nearly 60 per cent of immigrants admitted to Quebec already speak French or French and English by the time they arrive in the province.

Immigrants to Quebec are also better educated compared to non-immigrants, Posca writes. Among Quebecers aged 25 to 54, 42 per cent of immigrants have a certificate, diploma or university degree compared to 24.9 per cent of Quebec residents who were born in Canada.

As to employment, Posca said discrepancies persist between immigrants and Canadian-born residents of Quebec, but the gap is narrowing. The employment rate of Quebecers born in Canada was 86.6 per cent in 2018 compared to 78.9 per cent for immigrants, which Posca noted was slightly better than Ontario's immigrant employment rate of 78.5 per cent.

"In summary, immigrants in Quebec master French as never before, are highly educated and participate en masse in the labour market," Posca writes.

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The study also downplayed the government's claims that too few immigrants to Quebec are retained. Posca points to statistics showing that 82.2 per cent of economic immigrants to Quebec admitted to the province in 2010 were still there five years later.

"The fact is if we compare Quebec to other provinces in Canada we realize that [Quebec] is one of the four provinces where the retention rate is greatest," Posca told CIC News. "We realize that provinces that have more immigrants have the best retention rates."

The IRIS study points to a 2018 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development study that shows countries that welcome more immigrants are also those where immigrants enjoy better outcomes relative to those born there.

"There is nothing to indicate that accepting fewer immigrants will improve their lot," it argues.

The study posits that the main obstacles to integration are in fact issues on the host society's end such as the recognition for professional credentials and work experience obtained outside Canada and employment discrimination.

Bill 9, however, does not address either of these concerns, it says.

The move to reduce immigration at a time when Quebec's population is ageing and its employers are facing a serious shortage of labour is also questioned, as is what the study calls the CAQ's  "utilitarian" view of immigration as a means to primarily economic ends.

"In effect, the government is putting an end to the citizen's approach to immigration, where immigrants are considered for their social, cultural and economic contributions," it says.

The study recommends that Quebec return to its previous admissions target of 50,000 newcomers "as much for human as demographic and economic reasons."

"With this level of immigration, the employment rate has been going up. The number of immigrants was not the problem," Posca told CIC News.

"Quebec also has an ageing population, so if we want to address this problem in the future, we should welcome immigrants who are, on average, younger than the population in Quebec," she added. "It doesn't seem like a good idea right now to not host those people who want to have a life project here in Quebec."

The study also calls on the government to allocate a "significant" budget for both governmental and non-governmental organizations in the province that work directly with newcomers to the province in order to meet its stated goal of "efficient and personalized" integration services.

In response to the study, the government stood by its views on immigration and highlighted the fact it was elected on a platform to reform Quebec's immigration policies.

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