Photo by Maximus Studio on Flickr. Edited by Inroads Journal.

In Part 1 of this examination of the trends in the Canadian immigration system How Immigration Really Works in Canada, published in the Winter/Spring 2021 issue of Inroads, I showed that, aside from the family reunification and public refugee programs, over half of the people who receive their permanent residence in the economic category are already in Canada on temporary permits. Close to half of those are international students either completing a degree or working in Canada after having completed a postsecondary degree or diploma at a Canadian institution. The rest have other types of temporary work permits.

This trend was reinforced in February of this year when the federal government announced that it was inviting more than 27,000 people to apply for permanent residence, of whom over 90 per cent were already in Canada, essentially eliminating the points selection grid altogether.1 In April came announcement of a temporary policy to grant permanent status to 90,000 “temporary workers and international graduates who are already in Canada and who possess the skills and experience we need to fight the pandemic and accelerate our economic recovery.”2 These two announcements do not include Quebec because of the special Canada-Quebec Agreement which dates back to 1990. However, for the last few years, Quebec has also essentially been selecting people already working and living in the province.

Here I look at the various immigration programs designed to allow temporary workers to apply for permanent residence. I offer an overview of the two main temporary work permit programs,3 and then raise some issues related to this trend. Finally, I underline the work still to be done to ensure that the both the people who arrive here and the welcoming society benefit from this process.

A multitude of transition programs to permanent residence

An inventory of the various federal and provincial permanent economic immigration programs in Canada reveals close to 60 different streams and pathways. Each has its own conditions based on stype of occupation and skill level,4 level of education, source of education (Canadian or foreign), level of language skills, number of years of work experience in Canada or outside Canada, type of professional or skills training, etc. Some of the criteria are in constant flux as labour market requirements evolve. Each province has its own programs, so the criteria will differ depending on where one wants to settle. Some of the provincial programs include a provincial points system, while others simply list specific conditions.

For immigration purposes, jobs are grouped through the National Occupational Classification system, which describes each job according to skill type and level. Thus, skill type 0 consists of management jobs, while skill levels A through D group occupations that usually require a degree from a university (A), technical jobs and skilled trades that usually require a college diploma or apprenticeship (B), intermediate jobs that usually require high school or job-specific training (C) and jobs that provide on-the-job training (D). Although several provinces have programs geared toward C-level skills, these target very specific occupations. The rest require occupations at the 0, A or B level – college or higher.

Many programs in English Canada require spoken and written English or French at a beginner’s level. Quebec, for its Programme d’Expérience Québécoise, requires intermediate-level spoken French, which some consider excessive. However, unlike in the rest of Canada where English will undoubtedly eventually prevail, it is not a given that newcomers to Quebec will eventually turn to French. It is hoped that requiring a higher level of spoken French for permanent residence will encourage linguistic integration into the francophone community.

In the vast majority of cases, provincial programs are explicitly or implicitly aimed at people already in the country with work experience or a combination of study and work experience in Canada. The application conditions may specify “must be living in Canada at the time of application” or may include a valid long-term, full-time nonseasonal job offer from a Canadian employer.

The job offer condition is an implicit onshore requirement because there are very few applications from abroad with a valid Canadian job offer. In Quebec between 2013 and January 2021, only 2 per cent of principal applicants to the regular skilled workers program who were granted certificates of selection had valid job offers from Quebec employers.5 People applying for permanent residence on the basis of a long-term job offer from a Canadian employer have been working in the country for some time and have impressed a Canadian employer enough to be offered a permanent position in the form of a written declaration from the employer. I address the implications of such a requirement below.

Being selected through a provincial nomination program facilitates approval for permanent residence at the federal level, but the bureaucracy involved in applications at both levels complicates matters.

The one-step pathway

People applying for permanent residence from outside Canada could be excused for thinking that the process is a like a lottery. You need to “express your interest” by filling out an online form on a platform called Express Entry (Quebec has its own platform called Arrima). Then you wait. If your application is deemed of interest by the government, you will receive an “invitation to apply.” (If you are not invited to apply within one year, your file is deleted from the candidates’ pool and you start all over again.) After receiving the invitation, you then have two months to provide the detailed information required for a formal request for permanent residence.

Once the government (federal or Quebec) is satisfied that the file is complete, it commits to processing the application within six months. It applies points for different characteristics (age, language proficiency, level of education, type of experience and training, family, connections in Canada, etc.). If you accumulate enough points, the permanent residence visa is approved.

In Quebec, if your application is approved, a Quebec Selection Certificate (known as a CSQ) is issued. You must then apply to the federal government for permanent residence which, under the Canada-Quebec Agreement, will be approved, pending security and health checks. However, for administrative reasons linked to planned admission levels, the issuance of the visa by the federal government may take several months or even well over two years.

The two-step pathway

A temporary work or study visa, on the other hand, takes two to six months to process. Within two or three years of arriving in Canada, you may be eligible to apply for permanent residence through the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) or the Programme d’Expérience Québécoise (PEQ).6 Again, the file should be processed within six months. The temporary visa route has become the procedure of choice for both candidates and employers simply because the initial visa is easier and quicker to obtain and permanent residence is almost guaranteed if the foreign worker meets the conditions of the CEC or one of the multitude of provincial nominee programs.

The length of time required to obtain permanent residence through a period of temporary residence – two-step immigration – is potentially longer than through an offshore application, but it is much more of a sure thing and a temporary visa gets the foreign worker or student entry into Canada more quickly. Nevertheless, if the objective is in fact permanent residence, as is increasingly the case, considerable planning is necessary to be sure that the program of study or the type of work obtained will meet the conditions of one of the provincial or federal programs.

There are two overall temporary work programs: the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and the International Mobility Program (IMP). As a recent study published by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) explained, the main distinction between the two programs is that work authorizations under the TFWP require a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), which “serves to verify a number of factors, primarily if a Canadian is available to do the job,” whereas under the IMP an employer can issue a job offer without seeking an LMIA. Also, all work authorizations under the TFWP are limited to a specific employer, while the IMP includes both employer-specific permits – also known as closed permits – and open work permits.7

Only 6 per cent of those who transitioned from a temporary to a permanent status in Canada in 2019 did so from the TFWP. This is because the vast majority in this program are agricultural workers who return home after the harvest. As figure 1 shows, numbers of TFWP permit-holders other than agricultural workers and caregivers have had their ups and downs since 2000. Increases were interrupted by sharp drops in 2010–11 and again in the mid-2010s. The drops were due to the tightening of labour market evaluations, when it became public that some companies were hiring from overseas without making an effort to hire or train local workers.

The pattern differs from province to province (we are looking here only at the three provinces that make up over 75 per cent of Canada’s immigration intake – Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia). In Quebec, the number of TFWP permit-holders other than agricultural workers and caregivers went up by 53 per cent (from 5,085 to 7,765) between 2009 and 2019. In contrast, the number in Ontario dropped by 38.5 per cent – 13,245 to 7,080 – over the same time period. In B.C., the number of permit-holders in this subcategory dropped by 16 per cent, but the total number in 2019 (15,185) was double that of Ontario or Quebec, B.C being the province with the largest increase between 2017 and 2019.

About 70 per cent of work permits issued in 2018 were under the International Mobility Program.8 There are 24 subcategories of LMIA exemptions in the IMP, as outlined in table 1. Within each subcategory, there are dozens of specific situations, each with its own specific type of permit. Each type of permit comes with its own eligibility conditions and duration and rules regarding renewability.

In table 2, only a few of the most significant subcategories are presented, as well as those of interest in terms of comparability. By far the largest number of permits issued under this program in 2019 were postgraduate permits, which represented 41 per cent of the IMP permits in Quebec, almost 60 per cent in Ontario and 45 per cent in B.C. Other subcategories of interest shown in table 2 include the following:

Section 16 of NAFTA (now called the Canada–United States–Mexico Agreement or CUSMA), provides for the entry of U.S. and Mexican citizens for certain specific work-related matters. However, it is stipulated that these permits will not provide a pathway to permanent residence.

The significant benefit – general category is designed to be delivered under exceptional circumstances “where an LMIA is not available, and a specific exemption is not applicable, but the balance of practical considerations argues for the issuance of a work permit in a time frame shorter than would be necessary to obtain the ESDC opinion.”9

At this time, there are three reasons for IMP permits related to federal-provincial international agreements – significant investments, natural disasters and protection of foreign workers.

International Experience Canada allows young people (18 to 35) to work while travelling and vacationing in Canada. It is dependent on reciprocal agreements with other countries.

The total number of IMP permits almost tripled in Quebec and quadrupled in Ontario from 2009 to 2019, while growing by a smaller amount in B.C. (table 2). Composition changed dramatically as well, as the number of postgraduate permits increased by several hundred per cent in all three provinces, while the number of International Experience permits declined in Ontario and B.C. and remained stable in Quebec. It is to be noted that the increase in postgraduate permits mirrors the increase in study permits discussed in Part 1 in the Winter/Spring issue.

Some pertinent questions

1. Is there a method in this madness?

The short answer is: I can’t see one. This rapid trend toward inviting more temporary workers than permanent ones into the country and then opening pathways to permanent residence represents a massive shift in immigration policy undertaken by the federal government in the last five or six years, with no open consultation whatsoever. If the federal government has a coherent strategy, it’s keeping it pretty close to its chest. Which in politics often means there is no strategy and improvisation reigns.

2. Is it an economic strategy to address labour shortages?

It’s hard to believe, when the largest numbers of permits are handed out under what is called an International Education Strategy. Study permits are authorized with few restrictions on the field of study, so we are not necessarily educating people in fields which are in demand in the current labour market. Students can’t take on full-time work until after they obtain a diploma or a degree; then they get open work permits if they want to stay on. They may accept available lower-paid jobs, but they will be overqualified and, clearly, will not stay in the jobs once they become permanent residents. In fact, as mentioned above, most pathways to permanent residence pass through experience in jobs for which specific skills are required. Employers with long-term positions to fill generally don’t want to hire overqualified employees. The spouses of these students can work full-time, but they too tend to be well educated.

The same applies to the type of “temporary policy” granting permanent residence to certain categories of temporary workers that was announced in April. Agricultural workers are among the categories targeted. Normally agricultural workers come to Canada during the growing season, sending money back to their families and returning to their families at the end of the season. It is back-breaking work under difficult conditions and the worker’s permit is linked their employer. If they decide to accept the permanent residence that is offered, will they want to continue on the same farm under the same conditions or will they look for other work and apply to bring their family to Canada?

The temporary work permit system helps to get workers into the country more quickly, but can it be a long-term solution for medium- to long-term labour market requirements?

3. Is two-step immigration good for those who choose it?

At least one study suggests that it depends on the type of work experience:

The skill level of prior Canadian work experience matters significantly to earnings. Former temporary residents with work permits for skilled jobs had much higher initial earnings than immigrants without any prior Canadian experience. This earnings gap narrowed during the first 10 years but did not disappear. By comparison, former temporary residents with work permits for non-skilled jobs had significantly lower initial earnings and slower earnings growth than immigrants without any prior Canadian experience. Former foreign students without prior Canadian skilled work experience had slightly higher initial earnings than immigrants landing directly from abroad, entirely because of their longer stay in Canada.10

One of the problems with many studies comparing permanent residents with or without previous on-shore work experience is that the comparisons are made between residents with the same number of years after obtaining the permanent visa. But is this a fair comparison? Should it not be based on the number of years after arrival?

Heralding temporary residence as a pathway to permanent residence places many of those who come in a very precarious position. With open permits being given to the spouses of temporary workers and international students, both partners will be living precariously.

Educational institutions and employers often contract recruitment to intermediaries, opening the door to exploitation. Stories abound of foreign students and workers paying exorbitant fees to come to Canada with promises of work permits, study permits, high-paid jobs, permanent residence, citizenship and the ability to bring family members, with huge disappointments and little recourse.

A recent report released by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has a good description of the potential results of the growing dependence on recruitment intermediaries: “If on a spectrum or continuum, fair and ethical recruitment practices would be at one end with forced labour and human trafficking at the other. The broad range of abusive and unfair recruitment practices fall in the somewhat grey area between them.”11 Considerable legislation has been put in place to try to regulate these intermediaries. Apart from the relatively small employment sector under federal jurisdiction, this is a provincial responsibility, and the response has been as complex as the immigration system itself. The same report concluded,

Taken together, the sum of provincial regulatory approaches to international labour recruitment and employment is an intricate patchwork: uneven in protections and characterized by variance in scope, content, and sanctions. And this patchwork is further complicated by the way in which it irregularly layers with federal matters of immigration, including its laws and programs. From any perspective, be it from the view of a migrant worker, an employer, a recruiter, or a government, these laws are challenging to grasp at once. The consequence is markedly distinct coverage of migrant worker protections across Canada and inconsistency of rules for relevant players, including recruiters active in multiple jurisdictions.12

For many of the transition programs to permanent residence, fast-track processing requires proof of a full-time long-term job offer at a particular level. Even workers with open work permits, which allow them to change employers, are therefore dependent on their employer to achieve their dream to stay in Canada. The type of temporary permit also may affect access of temporary workers and their families to certain essential public services. As most of these services come under provincial jurisdiction, each province determines how the status of the temporary resident affects access to services.

It should also be noted that temporary residents do not have the right to vote or run for office. This is also the case for permanent residents, something being called into question by some parties on the left.

Jurisdictional mismatch

The immigration system in Canada has become a serious jurisdictional mismatch. The original British North America Act (Constitution Act, 1867) stipulates in Article 95 that both the federal and provincial governments may legislate in the fields of immigration and agriculture. Constitutional historians explain this by the fact that, at the time, essentially the only purpose of immigration was to colonize and to work the land. Since the management of public lands and property rights were under provincial jurisdiction, the two fields were naturally linked.

In practice the provinces, with few exceptions, let the federal government occupy the field of immigration until the latter half of the 20th century. Quebec, in 1968, was the first province to develop an overall immigration policy, enact it into law and create a department of immigration to put it into effect. A few others have followed in recent years, but much is still maintained at the administrative level with federal-provincial agreements, most of which require renewal every five years. Quebec’s agreement is open-ended and includes an “opt-out” arrangement with an accompanying transfer of funds for integration and francization services.

Such agreements deal with permanent immigration, but the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over “naturalization and aliens.” With time it has assumed responsibility for who can enter the country and who can be deported and under what conditions. The federal-provincial agreements require consultation with the provinces, but national admission levels are set by the federal government and include allotments of a certain number of candidates who can be nominated by each province. Quebec, in contrast, is able to set its own annual admission levels in consultation with the federal government.

Temporary immigration is run exclusively by the federal government. And temporary immigration is unplanned, with no caps on the number of permits granted. It is not hard to imagine a day in the not-too-distant future (postpandemic) when there will be more temporary residents eligible for permanent residence than the planned admission levels will allow. At that point, there will be only two options: they will have to leave (or be deported) or stay on undocumented.

There is already a very small pilot project in place in collaboration with the Canadian Labour Congress to help find a pathway to citizenship for such undocumented immigrants in the construction industry. Nevertheless, amnesty programs should be the last resort. The increase in temporary residents is leading to rumours of more people staying in Canada when their permit expires. Without exit visas, it is impossible to know how many temporary residents are in the country with expired permits, and this number is expected to grow.

This brings us to the issue of settlement services. Despite encouraging the two-step immigration process, the federal government offers no settlement services for temporary arrivals. It stands to reason: if they are really temporary residents, how can we know if their intention is to stay on? Should public resources be spent on offering settlement services and language courses to people who have not yet expressed a specific interest in staying on? In fact, the instructions for the processing of temporary permits specifically prohibit federal officers from taking into consideration the capacity of the applicant to adapt to the host society: “An officer should NOT consider perceived challenges the applicant might face in interacting with the broader community, such as availing him/herself of community services, if this is not relevant to their job performance.”13

For permanent immigrants, it is generally the provinces that provide these services directly or indirectly. For example, when permanent residents selected by Quebec arrive at the Montreal airport, they are directed to the Quebec ministry of immigration counter. At that counter, they can receive information on how they can access services and what their rights are, and appointments can be set up on the spot for welcoming or settlement sessions or French classes. Not all will sign up immediately, but at least the offer is there.

However, in Quebec as in other provinces, this does not apply to temporary residents on arrival. The provinces have no way of knowing when temporary workers and students arrive and therefore cannot intervene in a timely manner. In the case of French language training in Québec, it is particularly important to be able to intervene as quickly as possible. At this time, most of the settlement needs of temporary residents in Canada are left to employers, educational institutions and recruitment agencies. The result is highly uneven and largely unregulated.

It is the provinces that know their local labour market needs; this is obvious from the wide range of specific occupations and training identified by the different provinces in their provincial nominee programs. The provinces provide direct services to the population for health care, driver’s licences, child care, education, public transportation and public housing, and hence it is they that have an idea of how much the system can take. It is they that are responsible, as mentioned, for labour protection laws, employment policy and employment training programs.

And yet it is the federal government that sets the numbers of admissions and decides who gets a temporary permit, for what purpose, for how long, whether it is open or closed and whether an employer needs to demonstrate a labour market need.

It’s time to talk

The immigration system in Canada has become so complex that nobody can keep up with the constantly moving target of permanent residence. People who arrive as permanent residents can count on stability and on access to all public services for themselves and the family members who accompany them. They may turn to an immigration consultant, but do not need to, so the only fees are to the government for the processing of their application. They can concentrate on starting their new life without fear of exploitation.

Recruitment of permanent residents from abroad is government-controlled. The Canadian system, as we have known it for several decades, has been based on legislated consultation and, one would hope, on data on labour market needs, levels of social acceptability, demographic and linguistic priorities and the capacity of local services to absorb the new arrivals and help them settle successfully in their new communities. This level of planning would probably be more effective at the provincial level, as in Quebec, but for permanent immigration at least the principles and structure are in place requiring the federal government to consult and plan.

Also, the one-step immigration process provides the government – at least the federal and Quebec governments – with complete information on the people granted permanent residence. We know their ages, whether they have school-aged children, their field and level of study, their work experience in their home country, their language skills and their city of destination, and we have their email addresses. All this information could and should allow for efficient planning of settlement services and the possibility to do follow-ups.

But this is only the visible part of the iceberg. Most newcomers, as this analysis has shown, arrive as temporary residents. Temporary residence is insecure. People cannot plan their lives – decide to start a family, buy a home – until they are sure they are receiving their permanent residence visa. They are also vulnerable to exploitation. While there has been no significant evaluation of the effectiveness of temporary workers in resolving labour market shortages, we do know that the excessive trend toward recruiting international students has left postsecondary institutions dependent on this clientele. It has been one of the factors leading to the bankruptcy of Laurentian University in Ontario.

According to a Boston Consulting group report on “global talent,” Canada is now the first destination choice of foreign workers. Whereas 30 years ago the near-universal preference was for “America, America, America,” in the intervening decades “the appeal of the US as a work destination has declined.” The same report surveyed people’s willingness to move to another country for work, which it found to have declined from almost two thirds in 2014 to about half.14 Economic immigration as we know it will undoubtedly decline, particularly in the knowledge economy. On the other hand, the news is filled each day with migrants fleeing for their lives from conflict zones. Studies abound on how climate change is going to force relocation of huge portions of the world’s population – people with varying levels of wealth, work experience and language skill.

Canada needs to be prepared. Being a long way from where most of the conflicts and climate damage is happening has given us the false sense that we can control the flows of migrants into the country. But Canada is seen as a safe country with lots of space and natural resources, especially water, and, let’s face it, it’s not as cold as it used to be!

If the traditional one-step, points-based permanent immigration process has failed in its economic or demographic objectives, it is time to say so. It is time for governments, experts and stakeholders to sit down and determine the most effective way to manage the changes that are already happening. It is time to clarify precisely what the objectives of the migration management process are and who should be responsible for which steps.

Temporary immigration should be confined to temporary needs. International education should be geared toward educational, innovation and research purposes – the sharing of knowledge. People who arrive in Canada, often because they have been forced to leave their original home countries, need to be welcomed into a society and communities that are ready, willing and able to help them adapt and thrive.

This is not the time for partisan improvisation.

In case you missed it, click to read part 1 of this article, How Immigration Really Works in Canada.

Continue reading “How Immigration Really Works in Canada”

To get a handle on Canada’s immigration policy, we first need to address two misconceptions surrounding Canadians’ understanding of how their country’s immigration system works.

When the government announces that close to 340,000 immigrants will be admitted1 in a given year, many interpret this to mean 340,000 new arrivals that year. This is the first misconception. The reality, as revealed by a recent OECD study, is that – outside the context of the pandemic – hundreds of thousands of people arrive in Canada each year on a temporary basis, and this pool of people accounts for around 35 per cent of all those in the annual planned immigration total, including close to half of those accorded permanent residence in the economic category.

To be precise, in 2019, of the 341,180 people who obtained permanent resident status in Canada, 120,535 or 35 per cent were already legally in the country with some form of temporary status, broken down in table 1.2 The remainder were outside the country when they obtained their permanent residence visas; most of these were admitted through the family and humanitarian categories (see figures 1 and 2). The result is that many included in the overall immigration numbers are not new arrivals. They have been working or studying in Canada for at least two years and may well be settled with a spouse and children; some of those children are native-born Canadians.

The second misconception is that the standard path to being selected as a permanent resident is through the points system that gives foreigners wishing to reside in Canada an equitable opportunity to do so and ensures that those selected will have all the qualifications necessary to integrate successfully into the workplace and society in Canada. In fact, temporary residents generally are admitted through provincial and federal programs that apply specific criteria thereby fast-tracking their applications and bypassing the traditional selection grid. As a result, a relatively small proportion of total admissions are actually selected through the regular basic points system.

In this two-part article, I examine the two main groups of temporary residents who become permanent Canadian residents – foreign students and temporary workers – and attempt to highlight some of the issues raised by this trend. This first part focuses on international education, and the second part, to be published in the Summer/Fall 2021 issue of Inroads, will look at temporary workers. Quebec’s immigration policy situation has its own specific features, which I occasionally describe.

A complex system

I begin with an overview of the complexities of the overall Canadian immigration system. Figure 1 is a schematic of the main permanent immigration categories in Canada. It should be noted that the business class includes various federal and provincial programs for entrepreneurs or self-employed applicants.3 Express Entry is the platform for the reception and processing of almost all applications for permanent residence from foreign workers. There is an exception for those applying to live in Quebec, which has a similar platform called Arrima. This platform receives and processes applications for a Quebec Selection Certificate (known as a CSQ) under the Regular Skilled Worker Program.4 According to a longstanding agreement between the Quebec and federal governments, Canada accords permanent residence to those who have obtained a CSQ from Quebec.

The regular foreign skilled workers programs, Canadian and Quebec, are what most Canadians understand to be the core of the immigration process. Under these programs, applicants, generally living outside the country, complete an online questionnaire indicating their interest in applying for permanent residence. An algorithm searches for the applications that correspond best to Canada’s or Quebec’s needs and are most likely to obtain the necessary points to be selected. Invitations to apply are sent to those people, who then have two months to make a formal application. These requests for permanent residence are subjected to the Canadian or Quebec selection grid, and those who obtain the required number of points are selected to receive a permanent residence visa.

These visas are issued to the principal applicant and also to all accompanying members of the applicant’s family. Inclusion of family members is important to note. Even among those selected by the points system, more than half are family members of a principal applicant. Admissions through the Foreign Skilled Worker Program selection grid in 2019 amounted to 77,800, or 39.6 per cent of the economic category and 22.8 per cent of total admissions. Of these 77,800, roughly half were spouses and dependants. In effect, of all admissions in 2019, about 11 per cent were explicitly selected by the regular basic points system.

Moreover, included in the 77,800 are Quebec CSQs, which include many students and temporary workers already in Quebec. The share of those explicitly admitted via the points system is probably less than 10 per cent of the total. (Temporary residents can apply through the Canadian Experience Class or, in Quebec, through the Programme d’Expérience Québécoise or through various provincial nominee programs which heavily favour people with a valid temporary work permit in the particular province.)

The schematic in figure 2 breaks down immigration via Express Entry into its components. The bright red box represents the admissions explicitly selected through the basic Canadian points grid.

Of the 341,180 people who obtained permanent residence status in Canada in 2019, 120,535 or 35 per cent were already legally in the country with some form of temporary status, broken down in table 1.5

As set out in table 2, all of the above categories of temporary permits are on the rise except the temporary foreign workers subcategory, which requires a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA).

Other than asylum seekers, who are also in Canada at the time of obtaining permanent residence, the two main temporary categories generating transitions to permanent status while within Canada are temporary workers and foreign students. Generally, foreign students need to have work experience in Canada as well as a Canadian diploma. Each of these groups raises specific issues, some innocuous, others more consequential. In what follows I concentrate on foreign students.

A significant increase in foreign students

Table 2 shows that, in 2019, there were 27,515 transitions from a postgraduate work permit and 11,565 from a Study Permit6 to permanent residence. These 39,080 transitions are more than double the comparable number in 2015 (10,215 transitions from a postgraduate work permit and 8,565 from a Study Permit). Even more dramatically, by 2019 the overall numbers of the two types of student-related permit holders had grown by 264 per cent since 2009, and the number of postgraduate work permit holders alone was seven times greater.

According to the OECD report on the Canadian immigration system, a survey by the Canadian Bureau for International Education showed that 60 per cent of all international students plan to stay permanently in Canada. While there is good reason to believe that almost all of those eligible who apply are accepted, it is difficult to determine the actual percentage of foreign graduates of Canadian educational institutions who request permanent residence. The numbers who are eligible for the various federal and provincial immigration programs, and are therefore potential applicants, would have to be calculated from data held by each jurisdiction. What we do know, as shown above, is that 825,880 people resided in Canada with either a study permit or an IMP postgraduate work permit on December 31, 2019. That same year, 39,080 people with these types of permits became permanent residents.

This uptake is also evident in enrolment figures. Figures 3 and 4 illustrate the increases in international students as share of all enrolments and new enrolments in colleges and universities over recent years.7

It would be wonderful if these trends were solely linked to the reputation of our institutions of higher learning or to a greater awareness of the academic, scientific and cultural advantages of international education. But that cannot explain the upsurge in new enrolments. A closer examination suggests that international education has become a full-fledged industry. Many stakeholders have a vested interest in the presence of these students. Clearly, the potential of eventual permanent residence and Canadian citizenship is a key selling point above and beyond the value of the education offered.

Across the world, more than half of all international students are Chinese and Indian. The same is true in Canada, with the exception of Quebec where French students are the largest group as a result of specific bilateral favoured-nation agreements signed between the Quebec and French governments. While more study permits are issued to attend university than to attend college, the number of college-level permits is growing faster than the number of university-level ones. Moreover, at the college level Indian students outnumber even Chinese students. The fact that college programs are generally more employment-oriented suggests that enrolment as foreign students is especially immigration-driven among those from India.

The financial incentives

In 2019–20, average undergraduate fees in Canada were more than four times higher for international students ($29,714) than for Canadian students ($6,463).8 Graduate-level fees were a little more than one and a half times higher. Undergraduate fees for domestic students increased by 4 per cent over the past five years, but for international students the increase has been 33 per cent. At the graduate level fees for domestic students increased by 8 per cent and for international students by 22 per cent.

At the same time, provincial government funding of institutions has been declining despite increased enrolment. A recent study points out that for “the first time since the 1950s, public sources are no longer the dominant source of income for Canada’s postsecondary system,” and that “not only do many universities now derive more fee income from international students than domestic ones, many now derive more income from international students than from their provincial governments” (emphasis added).9

This increase in foreign students, paying much higher tuition fees than domestic students, is keeping some smaller universities and colleges from having to close, especially in regions affected by deindustrialization. Two thirds of students at Cape Breton University now come from a country other than Canada (primarily from India and China). Students from France and Africa are helping to assure the survival of some colleges (CÉGEPs) in Quebec, particularly those outside urban centres. This is best illustrated by a linguistic furor arising from an initiative of the francophone CÉGEP in the Gaspé Peninsula.10

After years of unsuccessful begging for increased funding from the Quebec government to maintain local programs, in 2015 the CÉGEP de la Gaspésie et les Îles opened a satellite campus in Montreal offering specific certificate programs in English that targeted largely Indian and some Chinese students. The result was that in 2019, 2,000 international students in Montreal were helping to finance programs in French for 1,200 students at four small campuses in the Gaspé Peninsula, making the college not only self-sufficient but profitable.

Political sensitivities surrounding English-language education for foreign students in Quebec being what they are, the nationalist CAQ government in Quebec City was called upon to intervene. It is a testament to the place that revenues from international education occupy in Quebec that the “intervention” amounted to insisting that the college’s website be bilingual, that it be clear on the site that French is the common language in Quebec, and that French second-language courses be provided for the international students. In the 2019–20 budget the CAQ improved the financing formula for CÉGEPs, favouring smaller regional institutions by introducing criteria sensitive to both the territory covered and the number of students. But like all other governments, it is clearly not prepared to introduce measures that might reduce the number of international students.11

A comparable situation has arisen at St. Clair College in the Windsor-Chatham area of southwestern Ontario. Reporters Isabel Teotonio, Nicholas Keung and Grant LaFleche wrote that the college’s 2019–20 budget

shows for the first time that international student tuition is the largest source of revenue, with a projected $71.8 million. By comparison, operating grants are $41.3 million, and tuition for its budgeted 7,600 domestic students is about $24.3 million. This fall, the college, which has seen its population of international students grow from just about 500 in 2014 to 4,200, increased tuition for new international students by 15 per cent.12

Not all in the academic milieu agree that the increased dependence on foreign students is a good thing. Some agree with Doug Todd’s conclusion in the Vancouver Sun:

The programs have lost their humanitarian ideals, grown into a giant business, largely draw second-tier students, put a disguised burden on taxpayers (especially on health programs) and are leading to declining standards in classrooms, particularly because many foreign students struggle with new languages.13

Educational institutions have been making adjustments in priorities and hiring to attract and accommodate foreign students. Resources are allocated to greeting students at the airport as flights arrive and providing advisers and support staff who offer welcome services to the students. These include helping them to find housing, buy their first groceries, open a bank account, find winter clothing, and learn how rental leases work and what their responsibilities are as tenants. Information on health insurance and driver’s licences and other government services is provided. Workshops explain the cultural specificities of life in Canada, and advice on immigration procedures is provided as well as language lessons to help them master English or French. Occasionally, remedial classes are established to bring students up to minimally necessary levels. Partnerships are established with institutions in other countries to facilitate bilateral mobility. Joint and dual degree programs contribute to attracting international students. Recruitment efforts include promotional costs and often, particularly outside Quebec,14 major contracts to firms that specialize in the field.

The broader economic impact

The federal government justifies such recruitment efforts in these terms:

As a trading nation, Canada must continually expand and diversify not only its customer base, but also its roster of potential exporters. This requires securing markets, as well as encouraging and enabling new exporters. The new strategy contributes to these goals by increasing the diversity of inbound student populations, skill sets and programs, and by fostering people-to-people ties and international networks. This will help build labour markets, spur economic development in target regions and industries, and support diversity at Canada’s educational institutions.

In other words, internationalizing educational institutions is basically a matter of money. Just prior to the 2019 election, the Canadian government proudly announced that young people coming to study in Canada spent approximately $21.6 billion on tuition, housing and other costs in 2018, and that their presence had supported nearly 170,000 jobs for Canadians in 2016. It concluded that this spending had a greater impact on the Canadian economy than exports of auto parts, lumber or aircraft. Canada is hardly alone in seeking to attract foreign students. Australia has calculated that international education is its “largest service export, contributing $37.6 billion to the Australian economy last year and supporting 240,000 jobs.”15

Since there are not many bursary programs available to international students, many are dependent not only on family support but also on part-time and summer work. Moreover, the various immigration programs geared toward international graduates of Canadian universities require six months to a year of Canadian work experience on top of their diploma. They and their spouses are eligible for work permits for up to three years. Working under revocable visas makes them ripe for exploitation, especially given the strong family pressure to succeed in their studies, their work and their immigration applications.

In India, sending a young person to study abroad is often an important investment supported by the extended family. There are reports of marriage scams in India and China in which a family wanting their son to emigrate will offer to pay all expenses for a girl capable of passing the required English tests to marry the young man. The wife will pursue her studies in Canada while he works, sending home remittances to his family. Once permanent residence is acquired, the young people undertake the process of bringing family members to Canada through family reunification, even if the marriage is dissolved.

Through their work and that of their spouses, these students send money to their country of origin. India and China are the biggest recipients of such funds from around the world. Stories abound of their exploitation by employers, sometimes members of the same community, as a reliable source of low-paid labour. The exploitation of Indian students recruited into the trucking industry has been recorded several times. The example of this industry is also significant for jurisdictional reasons (see below).

Some (though fewer and fewer, it would seem) raise the “brain drain” ethical argument – that this rush to recruit foreign students, often from developing countries, deprives the poorer countries of needed educated population. According to Doug Todd, “Indian education officials, especially in the Punjab, are complaining about losing students to Canada.” There are allegations that “many of the foreign students are being exploited by unscrupulous immigration agents and English-language trainers in India, as well as by money-hungry colleges and universities, landlords and South Asian business owners in Canada.”16

When I raised this issue (in writing) with an expert in international education in Quebec, he replied,

Young people want to be educated abroad so that they can benefit from the training they feel is of higher quality than they could get at home. They want access to better-paying jobs that allow them to realize their full potential, which their home country is not necessarily able to provide. Forcing them to return home would have a major demobilization effect and would contribute to a drastic drop in the number of international students in Canada … International students from developing countries who choose to settle in Canada will continue to support their families back home through remittances. They will thus help their families to educate their children, support the start-up of a business or income-generating activities. Ultimately, they will have made a concrete contribution to the development of their country, even if on a small scale, something that they may not have been able to do by staying at home.17

Agencies and consulting firms offer recruitment services. Educational institutions often pay commissions for such services, but the students’ families are also often charged in return for a promise to secure permanent residence and citizenship for the family member sent abroad. The recruiters direct international students to programs and institutions most likely to meet immigration criteria. As Mark Stobbe describes in the accompanying article, this results in students in courses that don’t interest them in the slightest, doing the minimum to obtain the required diploma or certificate, which can make life miserable in the classroom. These recruiters have also been known to facilitate the production of false language tests or other types of fraud.

Other worrying situations have been reported. In Australia young Chinese students have been identified as acting as agents of their government to infiltrate sensitive scientific research projects, while some Chinese students in the United States have reported on compatriots who dare to criticize the Chinese government through participation in human rights activities or protests.

The jurisdictional tangle

While international education started out as – and thankfully largely remains – an academic and research initiative fostering cross-border sharing of knowledge and cultural experience, the trend in recent years toward an immigration-driven project has significant repercussions for public policy. Constitutionally, education is a provincial responsibility, foreign policy and citizenship are federal, and immigration is a shared responsibility. Both the provinces and the federal government intervene in matters of language and integration, not to mention the economy, security, employment and labour.

Hence there are multiple actors involved at each level of government. When the federal government made public its five-year international education strategy in August 2019, three ministers attended: the Minister of International Trade Diversification; the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour; and the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. Other departments come into play as well, such as those responsible for security or finance.

At the provincial level, the departments involved are those responsible for education, immigration, immigrant integration, labour, employment and finance. In Quebec, the departments responsible for international affairs and the French Language Charter are involved as well.

It is difficult at the best of times to ensure interministerial collaboration on a single policy issue. In Quebec in late 2019, the Minister of Immigration decided to change the criteria of a program for foreign students designed to provide a fast track to a CSQ for foreign students. The changes would have restricted access and reduced the number of students eligible. The uproar was instantaneous from all sides – educational institutions, immigrant lobby groups and the students themselves. Internal divisions came to light when it became apparent that the minister had not thoroughly consulted his own cabinet colleagues, including the Minister of Higher Education. The government ended up scrapping the proposed changes within three days, and several months later brought out a modified version of the reform.

If interministerial collaboration is complex at one level, ensuring coherent policy decisions when both federal and provincial levels are involved is more than doubly complex. Indian-owned trucking companies in Canada provide a concrete example. If such a company is engaging in local hauling within a single province, provincial labour laws and protections apply; if it is doing interprovincial hauling, federal labour laws apply. How are the many students from India hired by these companies to understand their rights in such a morass of legislation?

To sum up: international education has become a major industry, far beyond its original educational, cultural and research objectives. So much so that governments have become more and more explicit in dangling the carrot of citizenship. The students so attracted are pawns more than beneficiaries.

But another Canadian policy stalwart, planned immigration, could also be losing out in the process. As we can see with regard to foreign students (and, as will be discussed in the second part of this article, with regard to temporary workers), the short-term needs of the universities and colleges and the marketplace are guiding the selection of these new immigrants, not a points system based on long-term social and economic priorities.

While you’re here, click to read Part 2 of How Immigration Really Works in Canada.

Continue reading “How Immigration Really Works in Canada”

The political consequences of the coronavirus pandemic are easy to see in Quebec, notably with regard to the Parti Québécois leadership race that was officially launched on February 1, with results to be announced on June 19. Like so much else, plans had to be changed after the pandemic struck. But first, we need to set the stage.

Pre-crisis situation: A party trying to rebuild

The Parti Québécois came out of the October 1, 2018, election with 17.1 per cent of the popular vote, the lowest percentage in its history. With 10 seats in the National Assembly, it ended up behind the Liberals and tied with tthe more left-leaning sovereigntist Québec Solidaire (QS). However, it lost its status as second opposition party to QS because one PQ MNA quit the party shortly after the election to sit as an independent, leaving the PQ in last place in the National Assembly.

Both the PQ and the Quebec Liberal Party were hurt badly by the backlash against traditional parties and the turn toward more populist parties that has been witnessed in other Western democracies in recent years. The self-styled nationalist Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), headed by François Legault, picked up 74 of the 125 seats with 37.4 per cent of the vote. One explanation for the move of many PQ supporters to the CAQ and QS in 2018 lies in the dubious strategy adopted by PQ leader Jean-François Lisée on the national question: a promise to hold a referendum after 2022 once he was elected to a second term. As a result, many left-leaning sovereigntists, especially young people, switched to Québec Solidaire, which was able to win several seats outside its Montreal base. Simultaneously, with independence off the table, it was easy for many francophone nationalists who lean to the right to switch from the PQ to the “anti-establishment” CAQ headed by a popular former PQ cabinet minister. (Non-francophones didn’t trust Legault’s federalist stance and stuck with the Liberals.)

The PQ establishment realized that a serious renewal was called for if the PQ were to climb its way back up to serious party status again. Lisée resigned, an interim leader was named and the leadership race was postponed to allow time for a renewal process to take place. The reasoning was that as a result of this process the leadership candidates would be bound to the will of the party members. Whether that reasoning was sound remains to be seen.

So in the spring of 2019, a special policy convention was called for the fall of that year. The objective of the convention would be to adopt a new “Statement of Principles” and new statutes, restructuring the party. The process was also designed to rally support and reach out to new members. As it turned out, the mobilizing efforts were far from successful. The process got very little media coverage and, with so few ridings represented by PQ MNAs, no adequate organization was in place even to reach existing members effectively.

The convention nevertheless was held in November 2019 and a new Statement of Principles was adopted, as well as new statutes. The statement puts an emphasis on independence (the vocabulary has moved away from sovereignty), without proposing any timeline. The challenges addressed are the permanence of the French language, along with climate change, inequality and trust in democratic institutions.

It lays out in four paragraphs the fundamental values guiding the party:

  • freedom – Quebec will only be free once its citizens are;
  • justice and equity – the health of a society is measured by its level of well-being and quality of life;
  • nationalism – defined by the PQ as a value of openness, inclusion and unity;
  • protection of the inherited environment as an expression of Quebec’s identity.

At least one attempt to add a reference to social democracy to the statement was voted down.

The revised statutes create a new category of “sympathizers” (sympathisants). For $5, anyone can sign up to be a PQ sympathizer and vote for the new leader, without being a party member (party membership costs $10 and allows one to stand for office within the party and be an observer at party meetings that are not in camera). This “sympathizer” category would seem to be largely geared to filling party coffers, but it also makes the outcome of the leadership race more difficult to call for reasons which will be discussed later.

The Campaign Coordinating Committee set a spending limit of $125,000, including a nonrefundable $25,000 payment to the party to get on the leadership ballot. Only donations from individuals eligible to vote in Quebec are accepted, all must go through the office of the Chief Electoral Officer and the maximum individual donation allowed is $500 (in elections, the maximum donation allowed is $100). Finally, each candidate must gather 2,000 signatures of active PQ members from at least 50 ridings and nine regions. The original deadline for submission of applications – including the $25,000 and 2,000 signatures – was April 9, with the results of the vote (online or by phone) to be announced at a big event on June 19, just before Quebec’s national holiday (the Fête Nationale, still commonly referred to by its former name of La Saint-Jean) on June 24.

But it was not to be. The first COVID-19 case in Quebec was detected on February 28. Three weeks later, the deadline for the submission of nomination papers was pushed to April 30, and then it was suspended entirely. The collection of signatures and donations were suspended at the end of March. At the time of writing, announcement of the final vote was scheduled for August 28, which will allow the party to have a new leader before the fall session begins (virtually?) in September.

The ex-minister, the comedian and the others

With all attention focused on dealing with the effects of the virus, no one is much interested in the campaign among the six candidates. The party has had a very difficult time convincing a woman to run. The most obvious female contender, MNA Véronique Hivon, announced early on that she would not be in the race, and it wasn’t until the second week in March that Gloriane Blais announced her candidacy. Blais, however, is a complete unknown outside her Mégantic region, where she ran and lost four times. By mid-April, she had raised $175 according to the Chief Electoral Officer’s website.

One of the five male candidates, Laurent Vézina, is also an unknown, so the contest is among four white francophone men, all between 43 and 51 years of age, which doesn’t do a whole lot to project an image of change.

Sylvain Gaudreault is the only candidate with a long and solid history in the party. He is openly gay, married, an MNA from the Saguenay region for more than 13 years, and a respected former minister in Pauline Marois’s PQ government (2012–14). His website and – more importantly in this campaign so dependent on social media – his Facebook page present concrete proposals linked to coming out of the COVID-19 crisis. He clearly understands the tools of government. His proposal relies heavily on green infrastructure projects and a green economy, including transitional programs to train workers for the new types of jobs this will involve. He even proposes to negotiate full constitutional powers over the environment for Quebec.

He is inclusive in his approach to what it means to be a Quebecer and decidedly leans to the left of the political spectrum. He supports the idea of a referendum during the first mandate, while recognizing that it is an uphill battle. He has so far the public support of two current and three former PQ MNAs and, interestingly, that of Lucie Papineau, former MNA and riding president for Prévost where rival Paul St-Pierre Plamondon ran in 2018. While he is a competent and articulate speaker, as evidenced in his videos, and sets out his position well, his often acknowledged lack of charisma could be his biggest drawback, given that he is running against a professional stage performer (see below). He had raised over $42,000 by mid-April, perhaps a sign that his experience and party networks are working in his favour.

Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, at 43 the youngest of the candidates, has raised only slightly less money than Gaudreault. He is a lawyer who joined the PQ and started contributing to it financially in 2016, when he entered the leadership race after the resignation of Pierre-Karl Péladeau. While he sought to take advantage of his network as cofounder of Génération d’Idées, whose mission was to encourage young Quebecers to become politically and socially involved, his ambition to enter party politics did not go over especially well. After his results on the first ballot were in the single digits, he threw his support, such as it was, to Jean-François Lisée. This was enough to get Lisée over the finish line, and PSPP, as he is known, was rewarded with a contract to prepare a report on how to widen the party’s base, particularly among young people, but the recommendations were not very well received by a party composed largely of boomers.

PSPP notes that he has lived and studied in Sweden but avoids identifying Sweden as any kind of model, instead staying very safe in his positions: pro-environment, pro–equality for women, pro-independence – nothing that would allow him to be identified to the right or the left. His platform, which ignores the diversity dimension, targets suburban rather than urban voters. He proposes a referendum in his first mandate and lowering immigration levels by close to 30 per cent to protect the French language.

Frédéric Bastien, a historian who teaches at Montreal’s anglophone Dawson College, has little to say except on matters of identity politics. There are two pillars to his platform: constitutional confrontation and cutting immigration levels by half. A fervent defender of the secularism legislation adopted by the current Legault government, he has “outed” judges he feels are too biased in favour of multiculturalism to ensure they change their behaviour or recuse themselves from rendering decisions on the legislation. He does this by checking which organizations they have agreed to speak to publicly. His has gleefully filled his Facebook page with media stories about the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision not to hear an appeal to suspend the secularism legislation and about the problems Hasidic Jews are having with the pandemic.

On the question of a referendum on independence, unlike the other candidates he would wait for his second term. Note that when Lisée took this position in 2018, Bastien published a book severely criticizing Lisée’s campaign and complaining that Lisée had not listened to him. He has nevertheless gained a high profile, which probably explains why he has managed to raise $23,000, almost enough to cover the amount he will need to recover the deposit required to get on the ballot.

A significant complicating factor in the race is the entry of standup comic Guy Nantel, who joined the party in order to run. While the candidate the most in a hurry to have a referendum, to be held within two years of his being elected, he suggested in an interview with Le Devoir that it be on a form of sovereignty-association, a proposal effectively rejected by the party after the unsuccessful 1980 referendum on that question. In a book published in 2017, Nantel sets out a number of his political positions, from appealing to anglophones by declaring English a national minority language and adding an English symbol to the Quebec flag to a National Assembly made up of 200 MNAs – 100 elected on a purely proportional basis and another 100 picked lottery-style from a list of interested citizens. And, to his credit, he holds that immigration is a plus for Quebec. He devotes much effort to breaking down in lay terms the figures on equalization and other federal programs, to demonstrate that Canada gets more from Quebec than Quebec gets from Canada.

Much of Nantel’s humour is socially and politically based, but it is largely mockery, including of politicians and political parties in general. Aside from his standup shows, he has made quite a name doing short “person-on-the-street” videos for YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, designed to illustrate the low level of political and general knowledge of Quebecers. During the campaign, he has on an almost daily basis been producing six- to seven-minute videos on various subjects, including policies to put in place after the pandemic linked to energy or food self-sufficiency. Others, though, have mocked people he feels go overboard with social distancing.

Still, he cannot be discounted given his prominence – he has 80,000 Facebook fans – and the fact that he has some well-known party organizers behind him. While he had raised less than $15,000 by mid-April, he started at the top among respondents who identified as PQ voters in the only poll published so far (in mid-February) with 38 per cent, compared to 16 per cent for Gaudreault, 5 per cent for PSPP and 4 per cent for Bastien, with 36 per cent undecided.

But it is only PQ members and sympathizers who will be voting. In the context of Quebec’s having to deal with the pandemic and its consequences, could they prefer a comedian over the more sober and experienced Gaudreault? At this point the deadline for recruiting members and sympathizers for voting purposes is August 1. The campaign was officially paused at the end of March, and little recruiting is taking place – although it is possible to sign up on the party website. The wild card is whether Guy Nantel’s fans will actually go to the trouble of signing up as sympathizers.

The pandemic crisis and beyond

As noted, any messages the candidates are managing to get out are carried strictly on social media. None of the mainstream media are picking up on the campaign. So it will probably be some time before any more polling is done. With no party events, it became impossible to gather original signatures, so the party changed the rules to allow for scanned handwritten signatures. Then the process was suspended on March 30. As it stands, when the decision is taken to start up again, the candidates will be allowed to resume fundraising and will have three weeks to collect signatures. A preliminary voters’ list will be provided to the official candidates within five days, but all emails to the voters will be channelled through the party. The rules now allow for the two debates before August 20 to be held by video streaming, with voting to take place August 24 to 28.

Parties normally count on leadership campaigns to boost membership and finances and to whip up some enthusiasm through publicly attended debates and a rousing final announcement event with as many party members as possible squeezed into a limited space. But in the spring and, presumably, summer of 2020, attention is elsewhere. With the pandemic upending democratic processes in Quebec as elsewhere, how many will even bother to vote? It is hard not to wonder what difference it makes who the PQ leader is when the current Premier, like many other heads of government, has popularity ratings off the charts.

However, these popularity figures may well fall dramatically before the next election in 2022, when the economic fallout of the pandemic sinks in. Will the independence movement and its leaders be able to take advantage of the current drive toward self-sufficiency? Will they gain traction in reminding the population of how many important decisions were dependent on another level of government, or will it be the federalists who gain from pointing to the collaborative initiatives taken with the federal government and other provinces to get through the crisis? A lot will depend on how François Legault, himself a former PQ minister, chooses to present himself and his party in the runup to the 2022 election. Stay tuned.

Quebec has had its own immigration department for more than 50 years, and for almost as many years Quebecers have heard about special agreements between Quebec and Canada under which Quebec “controls” its immigration. It is only natural, it is assumed, that this “distinct society,” recognized as a nation by the Parliament of Canada, should be able to develop and implement the policies relating to the number and types of immigrants that it receives, for the benefit of both the new arrivals and their hosts.

But is this really the case? To what extent does Quebec in fact control its immigration? To answer this, we need to look at several aspects that underpin the processes whereby immigrants are selected and welcomed. Immigration is a complex reality, and distinctions need to be made between those who arrive to work permanently in Quebec, those who arrive as refugees, those who present themselves at the border and request asylum, those who are in Quebec temporarily for various reasons and those who come to join their family.

I start from the assumption that immigration policy for Quebec should strive to achieve the goals of a harmonious, fair and just, secure and healthy society, in which French, as the common language, contributes to a shared sense of belonging to a community whose members have well-defined rights and responsibilities. An overview of an integrated immigration policy covering all aspects of migration is provided in box 1.

The Quebec government controls relatively few aspects of such a comprehensive immigration policy. The Canadian government has exclusive control over duration, categories of permanent immigration, conditions relating to temporary immigration, entry, expulsions and citizenship. Except for Quebec’s “selection grid” for admitting skilled workers and integration services for newcomers, the policies and procedures of the two governments often overlap and can even be contradictory.

Legal Framework

The basis of jurisdiction in immigration matters in Canada is found in section 95 of the British North America Act of 1867:

In each Province the Legislature may make Laws in relation … to Immigration into the Province; and it is hereby declared that the Parliament of Canada may from Time to Time make Laws in relation … to Immigration into all or any of the Provinces; and any Law of the Legislature of a Province relative … to Immigration shall have effect in and for the Province as long and as far only as it is not repugnant to any Act of the Parliament of Canada.

It is clear then that both governments may legislate in matters of immigration, but all Quebec laws and regulations in this field must be consistent with all the laws of Canada. In addition, article 91 of the Canadian Constitution states that the Parliament of Canada is solely responsible for “Naturalization and Aliens” which gives it authority over citizenship and the “conditions for entering and remaining in Canada.”1

The other key document setting out the specific roles of the two governments is the Canada-Quebec Accord Relating to Immigration and Temporary Admission of Aliens signed in February 1991. It specifies that the integration services offered by Quebec and financed by the Agreement must “correspond in their entirety to those offered by Canada in the rest of the country.” In addition, section 29 states that “nothing in this Accord shall be construed as restricting the right of Canada to provide services to Canadian citizens relating to multiculturalism or to promote the maintenance and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.”

Permanent Immigration

Annual number of admissions: Planning for permanent immigration involves the two governments establishing on a multiyear and yearly basis the minimum and maximum number of immigrants to be admitted to their respective territories. Article 7 of the Canada-Quebec Accord stipulates that “Québec undertakes to pursue an immigration policy that has as an objective the reception by Québec of a percentage of the total number of immigrants received in Canada equal to the percentage of Québec’s population compared with the population of Canada.” According to article 5, Canada takes into consideration Quebec’s advice on the number of immigrants that it wishes to receive.

The numbers matter. If Quebec does not receive the number of immigrants corresponding to its share of the Canadian population, the proportion of its population in Canada will decrease. The population of Quebec determines the number of Quebec seats in Parliament and hence the influence of MPs from Quebec, and is a factor in the calculation of certain grants and transfers from Ottawa. So there is not only a legal but also a political and financial incentive for Quebec to maintain relatively high permanent immigration levels.

This being said, Quebec has never reached this threshold. Its admissions have always been 2 to 6 percentage points lower than its share of the population. In 2018, the population of Quebec was 22.7 per cent of that of Canada, but Quebec received barely 16 per cent of immigrants.2 This is one of the explanations for the fact that Quebec’s share of the Canadian population has fallen from 27 per cent in 1976 to less than 23 per cent in 2018. To fulfill its election promise to lower the immigration threshold in 2019 to 40,000 people, admissions to Quebec under the CAQ government in 2019 will be around 12 per cent of Canadian admissions. The Canadian maximum is set at 350,000 and the Quebec maximum at 42,000.3 The number required for Quebec to reach its share of Canadian immigration in 2019 would be close to 80,000.

Categories: Applications for Canadian permanent immigration fall into several categories, the three main ones being economic, family reunification and humanitarian. The economic and humanitarian categories are broken down into subcategories. The humanitarian category includes those privately or collectively sponsored, government-assisted refugees selected abroad, and individuals who request asylum after arriving in the country. The economic category is composed of skilled workers and businesspeople. A few years ago, the government of Canada ended its Immigrant Investor Program, but maintained the subcategory, allowing Quebec to continue to accept applications under of its own Investor Program (box 2).

According to article 14 of the Canada-Quebec Agreement, “Canada has sole responsibility for the establishment of selection criteria for family class immigrants and Québec shall be responsible for the application of those criteria, if any, with respect to such immigrants destined to Québec.” The role of Quebec comes down to an assessment of the sponsor’s capacity to support the family member.

As for the humanitarian category, Canada defines refugee in accordance with its international obligations and the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. (Because of its provincial status, Quebec does not participate in the international forums which adopt these conventions and obligations.) Quebec reviews the undertakings of private group sponsors and signs funding agreements with organizations that help settle government-assisted refugees. As for those from abroad who claim refugee status once on Canadian soil, commonly called asylum seekers, article 20 of the agreement is very clear: “Where permanent resident status is granted to a person already in Québec who is recognized as a refugee, Québec’s consent shall not be required.”

Most of Quebec’s influence in the selection of newcomers is found in the economic category, and particularly the subcategory of skilled workers who are subject to the Quebec point system. The factors that make it feasible to accumulate points on the Quebec grid are similar to those found on the Canadian grid: training, work experience, age, language skills, prior stay or family in Quebec (a factor designed to gauge the potential of the candidate to adapt to Quebec society), and verified job offer.

Quebec establishes its grid according to its specific needs. Points awarded for training and experience are based on Quebec labour-market demand. Quebec gives more weight to French-language skills under the skilled workers subcategory, which makes it possible to ensure that overall admissions in general include a majority with a knowledge of French. Language skills are not a criterion in the family reunification or humanitarian categories.

Quebec selects individuals with characteristics that allow them to settle into and contribute to Quebec society fairly quickly with a minimum of government intervention. Typically they are well educated, have work experience, are trained in fields in demand in Quebec, are of working age and, often, have young children, which encourages long-term residence. They are therefore well placed to contribute to the ongoing development of Quebec, as well as to the sustainability of the French language.

The goal of the Quebec government is to ensure that a large majority of total admissions are in the economic category. However, Quebec does not entirely control the number of admissions in the categories controlled by the federal government. If Ottawa decides to undertake a blitz to process a backlog of requests for family reunification in Quebec or if, as a result of external pressures, it makes a commitment to welcoming a larger number of refugees or asylum seekers than originally planned, these increases will force a decrease in the proportion of admissions to the economic category so as to respect the total admission threshold established by Quebec.

The effects of this interconnection among the categories can be readily observed. In 2015, 66.6 per cent of admissions to Quebec were in the economic category; this share dropped to 57.1 per cent in 2018. The percentage of people admitted who had a knowledge of French was lower as a result. In 2014, 75 per cent of admissions in the skilled workers subcategory declared that they had French skills, so the percentage of francophones among all admissions reached 58.6 per cent. In 2018, the percentage of francophones among skilled workers declined to 65.4 per cent, but the percentage of admissions in the economic category also went down, resulting in an overall proportion of French speakers admitted that year of only 48 per cent.

Admission and arrival of immigrants: It is also important to look at what happens at the moment newcomers arrive in the country. How are they welcomed and informed about their rights and responsibilities and the government services available to them, as well as how to access them?

In other provinces, this service is typically offered by a local organization subsidized by the Canadian government at a counter space in international airports. In Quebec, there is a small, little-known team of Quebec officials that provides a reception service at Montreal’s Trudeau Airport. This team welcomes people who have obtained their permanent residence visa irrespective of category. It provides basic information on government services and even offers to set up appointments for integration services, enrolment in French-language courses offered by the Quebec immigration department and application for their health insurance card. It also updates the personal file of people already in the Quebec immigration ministry information system.

The Quebec government has recently announced the expansion of this service to include domestic flights (since many immigrants destined for Quebec arrive first at Vancouver or Toronto) and to assign an immigration agent to accompany the newcomer in his or her first steps towards integration. Expansion of this service will depend on signing an agreement with the relevant federal agencies, since airports are a federal responsibility.

Quebec’s limited resources do not allow this service to be offered at other airports or to those arriving by land, nor is it available to temporary workers. An effort is made to welcome foreign students, but given the mass arrivals in August it is usually offered in a group setting rather than individually. The result is that while every newcomer arriving in Canada interacts with the Canadian government at customs and immigration, where they receive their permanent or temporary visa and security clearance, the Quebec government is able to welcome on arrival only a minority of those coming to Quebec.

A word about administrative data: The first of the 23 goals of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 19, 2018 by 152 countries, reads as follows: “Collect and utilize accurate and disaggregated data as a basis for evidence-based policies.”4

The importance of such comprehensive and reliable data cannot be overstated. Depersonalized data are an invaluable source of information about the processing of requests (processing times, acceptances, refusals, application inventories, etc. ), the numbers admitted and their characteristics (status and category, age, occupation, mother tongue, country of birth and origin, gender, city of destination, city of residence five or ten years after arrival), employment rates of native-born Canadians and immigrants, the demand for skills and training, the language of work and study, and government, community and private resources available for the integration of newcomers.

In addition, nominalized data are important to be able to follow the progress of the immigrants after arrival. Through their email addresses the government can contact the newcomers with regard to their satisfaction with the services received and their needs and expectations, and to provide information on new services. All this information helps to improve planning for the number of people to select and the services required to meet their needs.

The British North America Act states in section 91 that the Census and Statistics are under the sole purview of the Canadian government. In addition, in matters of immigration, only the Canadian government can collect data on entries to the country and the characteristics and status of people crossing Canada’s international borders. With the exception of the data derived from requests processed by its immigration ministry, Quebec is dependent on Canada for all information on admissions. Except for those who stop at its counter at the Montreal airport, Quebec has no information on when people actually arrive, which makes it very difficult to reach many newcomers at the right time with the right information.

Integration

Knowledge of the common language is the main requirement for rapid and harmonious integration. In this area, messages from Canada and Quebec conflict. English and French are enshrined in the Canadian Constitution and reinforced by the federal Official Languages Act, while the Charter of the French Language declares French the only official language in Quebec. As specified in the Canada-Quebec Accord, in return for Canada withdrawing from offering socioeconomic and linguistic integration services in Quebec and offering equivalent financial compensation, Quebec must offer services that, when considered in their entirety, correspond to the services offered by Canada in the rest of the country. Moreover, as a result of their many contacts with the Canadian government, newcomers often assume that Quebec has two official languages.

Quebec has been trying for decades to define its own approach to social cohesion, which in many respects is at odds with Canada’s multicultural approach. The 2019 Act Respecting the Laicity of the State is only the most recent initiative in this regard. Multiculturalism was enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (article 27), but has never been accepted as suiting Quebec. Upon the announcement in 1971 of the new Canadian multiculturalism policy, Quebec’s Liberal Premier at the time, Robert Bourassa, wrote to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau as follows:

Concerning the principle of multiculturalism, Quebec does not adopt the approach of your government. Indeed, it appears difficult to align this notion with the Quebec reality where there the predominant population group is linguistically and culturally French … If the federal government assumes overall obligations for all the other cultures to be found in Canada, Quebec must take within its own territory, the role of prime defender of the French language and culture.5

One of the most important tools in the arsenal of a nation-state to create a sense of belonging and loyalty among its immigrant population is naturalization. As every nation does, Canada reinforces the messages of its history and values in the naturalization process, including those of bilingualism and multiculturalism. Quebec offers socioeconomic and linguistic integration services, one aspect of which sets out Quebec values, but these services are voluntary, and Quebec does not have the power to make them mandatory. Given that it does not have the data and personal information needed to reach every immigrant, especially in the family and humanitarian categories or the temporary programs, it lacks the overall resources to effectively counteract messages from the Canadian government which do not jibe with its reality.

Temporary Immigration

Temporary immigration is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Canadian government and covers a wide range of foreigners residing in Quebec. There are three general programs, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), the International Student Program and the International Mobility Program (IMP).

The number of people in Quebec each year with temporary permits is far greater than those admitted as permanent residents. On December 31, 2017, there were 107,310 people with temporary status within Quebec’s borders – 61,565 as international students, 38,535 under the IMP and 7,210 under the TFWP.6 That same year 52,388 people were admitted to Quebec as permanent residents.

According to the Accord, for those in Quebec under the International Student Program (of which the number has been steadily rising since 2012) and the TFWP program, the Quebec government must consent to their admission to the territory. A process of validation of the requests gives rise to the issuance of a Certificat d’Acceptation du Québec. This process results in some, though limited, information being filed in the ministry’s information system. However, people who come through the IMP (more than 35 per cent of temporary workers in Quebec on December 31, 2017) do not need a work permit, in large part because of various international agreements signed by the Canadian government. Quebec has no say in these issues and therefore does not have its own data for them. In fact, a recent OECD report on the Canadian immigration system criticizes the fact that even the Canadian government has no useful data on the people in the country under the IMP program.

For several years, the Quebec government has made significant efforts to increase temporary immigration and to convince people with temporary status (workers or students) to apply for permanent status. A special program, the Programme de l’Expérience Québécoise (PEQ), based loosely on the federal government’s Canadian Experience Category, offers a fast track to permanent selection by Quebec for eligible applicants with temporary status. Applications under the PEQ are processed within a month, and must show proof of French-language skills. In recent years, the vast majority of people selected by Quebec have had a temporary status at the time of their selection. This has been an important goal of the ministry’s strategic plan.

It is not difficult to understand why the government would want to meet its permanent immigration goals with individuals who already have a job in Quebec or a diploma from a Quebec institution of higher education. Temporary immigration applications are processed faster than permanent ones by the Canadian and Quebec governments. Companies can potentially fill positions within a few weeks or months rather than the two or three years required to process permanent immigration applications. In addition, they cost little or nothing in integration or francization services because they are not eligible to receive these services as long as they have a temporary status. Recently, the government announced that certain services will be opened to some temporary workers, but details are sketchy.

There are some disadvantages to this, however. These individuals are not selected using the Quebec point system. They come into Quebec through Canadian government programs and, in the case of TFWP, on the basis of the ebb and flow of the short-term labour market. In this sense, it is effectively private enterprises that are selecting the foreign workers who can come to Quebec. People with temporary status do not need to know French to reside and work in Quebec. Moreover, as already mentioned, the Quebec government has little or no contact with them either on their arrival or afterwards to assist them in finding the services for which they may be eligible.

Another relevant consideration is that temporary immigrants who apply for permanent status in Quebec have been in the province for at least a year, often several years, and during that time, under the French Language Charter, they can enroll their children in English schools. The data reveals that this is a choice more and more of them are making. A recent study by the Office Québécois de la Langue Française presents figures on the numbers of francophones, anglophones and allophones in public preschool, primary and secondary education in Quebec. It shows that between 1990 and 2001, the percentage of children enrolled in the English public schools thanks to their temporary status was 4.8 per cent. This percentage more than doubled to 11.4 per cent for the cohort from 2002 to 2015.7

When these people are selected for permanent status by Québec, this special authorization is no longer available, but data have not been published on the number of exemptions offered by the Ministry of Education to enable these young people to continue their education in the English school system. It is also not known how many have graduated from high school before obtaining permanent status. Moreover, unless and until the issue comes before the courts again, these children pass their eligibility to enter Quebec’s English public-school system to their brothers, sisters and offspring.

Can Quebec Remain a Distinct Francophone Society?

Overall, Quebec’s control over immigration-related policies is not sufficient to ensure its position as a distinct francophone society. It is constrained by international agreements and treaties negotiated unilaterally by the Canadian government within the framework of an immigration system established by it. The Quebec government is unable to adequately receive and thus integrate all foreign nationals arriving on its territory with the powers and resources at its disposal. Much of the data essential to the planning and implementation of a comprehensive immigration policy are collected and controlled by the Canadian government. Finally, the message newcomers receive about Quebec’s historical, cultural, linguistic and economic specificity is blurred by their interactions with a bilingual Canadian government and its ideal of multicultural citizenship.

Is there sufficient room for improvement? Or are these limitations such as to pose the question of whether Quebec, as a province within the Canadian federal system, can hope in the long run to adequately integrate immigrants so as to remain a distinct francophone society?

Continue reading “The Myth of Quebec’s Control Over Immigration”