On April 2, I read this on the Global News website:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government wants to rein in the number of temporary immigrants coming to the country, saying the situation needs to be brought “under control.”

“Whether it’s temporary foreign workers or whether it’s international students in particular, that have grown at a rate far beyond what Canada has been able to absorb,” Trudeau said at a housing announcement in Dartmouth, N.S.

My jaw dropped.

This was the first time I’d seen a quote from the Prime Minister himself stating straight out that immigration, including temporary immigration, needs to be brought “under control” – as if the current situation had not been created by his own government, and often under his direct instructions.

Decisions the Liberals have made since coming to power in 2015 have resulted in uncontrolled immigration – uncontrolled not only in terms of numbers but also in terms of selection criteria – with damaging effects on the Canadian economy, access to housing and public services, and perhaps even social cohesion. To understand these decisions, we need to analyze the evolution of Canadian federal immigration policy, starting with the previous Harper government and then pinpointing the changes made by the Liberals.

To be clear, I am not criticizing any one type of immigration. International study is to be encouraged. Hiring temporary foreign workers has its place in filling specific short-term labour market needs and international commitments. Asylum seekers’ rights must be respected. Families need to be together, and the world humanitarian situation is in crisis. Rather, I am pleading for the restoration of a managed system with positive outcomes for newcomers and established Canadians alike.

Figures 1 and 2 show the overall trends in administrative activity related to permanent and temporary immigration and a breakdown of temporary immigration activity by program. While the increases in permanent immigration targets were grabbing the headlines, the often overlooked upsurge in temporary immigration was much more dramatic. These data represent visas and permits issued and asylum claims received, and are not to be confused with numbers of actual arrivals each year or population numbers. It is also important to note the proportions and increases in each of the temporary permit programs and the movement with regard to asylum claims.

Figure 1
Figure 2. Note: IMP – International Mobility Program; TFWP – Temporary Foreign Workers Program
The 2015 election: A major turning point

The only significant public immigration issue prior to the October 2015 election was the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP). In 2014 there were multiple embarrassing headlines about employers bringing in foreign workers to replace Canadians. The Royal Bank went so far as to expect the Canadian workers being fired to train their foreign “temporary” replacements. Justin Trudeau, Liberal Opposition Leader at the time, expressed his outrage in an article in the Toronto Star in May 2014:

Since taking office, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party have transformed the Temporary Foreign Worker Program – which was originally designed to bring in temporary workers on a limited basis when no Canadian could be found – into one that has brought in a large pool of vulnerable workers.

He expressed his alarm about the increased numbers of temporary foreign workers and the disturbing possibility that this might result in more temporary worker entries than permanent resident entries, with negative economic outcomes for Canadians.

In reaction to the headlines, the Harper government tightened the rules for hiring foreign workers linked to labour market needs, with a view to cutting back on numbers and abuses. It divided the TFWP in two, carving out the International Mobility Programs (IMPs) and grouping them into a new separate single program of the same name.

In October 2015, the Conservatives went down to defeat at the hands of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. Six months after the election, the new Liberal approach to immigration started to emerge with the creation of the Advisory Council on Economic Growth, headed by Dominic Barton of Century Initiative¹ and McKinsey fame.

In October 2016, the council produced its first report, recommending a major increase in population through immigration. The council proposed that “economic” immigration levels reach 450,000 by 2021. The report demonstrated a lack of understanding of immigration planning because its concept of “economic immigration” encompassed both permanent and temporary immigration, while it is only permanent immigration that is “planned.” Annual targets are set only for permanent immigration, which includes family and humanitarian categories (not mentioned by the Council).²

The report also pushed for a major hike in international students. However, whether referring to permanent residents, temporary workers or international students, the council advocated strictly for highly skilled immigrants in new technical fields, where Canadian expertise was apparently lacking.

The council’s forecasts of economic growth and GDP per capita were fundamentally flawed because population is not the most significant indicator of economic growth, immigration is not entirely economic and, as we shall see, employers were and are more interested in cheap labour than expensive highly skilled labour.

In every field of immigration, the Liberal government has facilitated increased numbers of new arrivals, without consideration for the capacity on the ground to welcome them with appropriate access to housing and public services. At the same time, it has abdicated selection to postsecondary institutions and businesses, and decisions on matters of immigration have been driven by headlines. The result has been a diminishing proportion of newcomers being selected by the points system, which has served Canadian immigration well since 1967.

Decisions designed for population growth

Gradual growth in permanent immigration targets: The new Liberal government’s official permanent immigration plans started off slowly. For 2017 and 2018 total immigration levels were maintained at 300,000.

Annual permanent immigration levels started to rise by 10,000 to 20,000 as of 2019. The federal multiyear immigration plans are rolling and are hence updated each year, so that a target for 2021 set in 2019 could be increased in 2020, and so forth. (This is not the case in Quebec, which updates its multiyear plans at the end of each planning cycle.) So the federal plans have been creeping up each year: the 2023–25 plan put the overall target in 2025 at 500,000.

Push to increase the number of foreign students: With regard to temporary immigration, however, the government felt no restraint at all. Sean Fraser, Immigration Minister from 2021 to 2023, repeatedly claimed he had no control over temporary immigration. The numbers came down to the needs of postsecondary institutions and businesses.

In August 2019, in the runup to the October general election, three federal ministers proudly announced the government’s five-year International Education Strategy. Reflecting federal priorities, they were the ministers of the economy, employment and immigration – none of whom had responsibility for education, a provincial jurisdiction.

The first five-year international education strategy had been announced in 2014 by the Harper Conservatives. It was specifically linked to increasing the number of international students from countries targeted as emerging commercial markets, and set an objective of attracting “more than 450,000 international students to Canada” by 2022. Aside from trade, the strategy touted the new jobs to be created, the money the students would spend, the “boost” to the economy and the additional tax revenues. Immigration was a potential collateral benefit, not an objective.

The Liberals took the idea of international education and ran with it. The 2019 strategy noted that international students represent an important source of economic activity, contributing more than $21 billion to overall GDP in 2018. According to the strategy, international students would be encouraged to apply for permanent residency, allowing the government to attain its permanent immigration targets more easily.

In 2022, more than 550,000 study permits (new or renewals) were issued. This number rose to more than 680,000 in 2023. At the end of 2022 there were close to 805,000 study permit holders in the country; at the end of 2023, there were 1,040,985.

A fast-track processing service, called the Student Partnership Program, was created by the Conservatives in 2008 specifically for Indian students applying to community colleges, with Chinese students added in 2010. A recent study indicates that this fast-tracking significantly increased the acceptance rate of study permits from the targeted countries. In 2018, the Liberals renamed the program the Study Direct Stream, increased the list of countries to 14 and opened it up to all postsecondary institutions designated by provincial governments. The Liberal strategy emphasized diversifying the countries of origin without identifying any specific targets. There is no reference to the levels or study programs that should be prioritized.

In October 2022, Immigration Minister Fraser lifted the restriction on the number of hours international students could work off-campus during the semester; the maximum had been 20 hours a week. The change was ostensibly directed at allowing students to cover the increase in the cost of living, but it had the added benefit of providing more low-wage labour for certain economic sectors – international students work in low-wage sectors such as retail, restaurants and tourism.

Given that there is no link between international students’ study programs and labour market needs, these young people are too often getting diplomas in programs such as business and administration only to discover they can’t find a job in their field. The data have prompted one researcher to comment, “What we’re doing is bringing in low skill, low wage, expendable and exploitable temporary foreign workers in the form of students.”

Applicants for a study permit may be accompanied by their families. Open work permits were created for the spouses of international students and qualified temporary workers, such as those with a Post-Graduate Work Permit (PGWP). These measures and others, facilitating the transition to permanent residency, led to the international study program becoming an immigration program. Private colleges sprouted up providing substandard diplomas in the shortest time frame allowed under the permanent pathway programs.

Easing of eligibility requirements for employers in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, a “contemporary form of slavery”: According to the federal government’s website,

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) allows Canadian employers to hire foreign workers to fill temporary jobs when qualified Canadians are not available … The Program assesses the impact by looking at available labour market information for the region and the occupation, the employers’ recruitment and advertisement efforts, wages and working conditions, labour shortages and the transfer of skills and knowledge to Canadians.

It all sounds perfectly reasonable, but before even looking at the ways the program has been “adjusted” by the Liberal government to increase the numbers of low-wage foreign workers, it is critical to acknowledge that, according to the 2023 report of the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, “The agricultural and low-wage streams of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program constitute a breeding ground for contemporary forms of slavery.”

This is largely because the work permits issued under this program are known as closed permits. They tie the workers exclusively to the employer who brought them into Canada. The program has been a source of abuse and exploitation since its inception. It requires significant and growing resources just to ensure the safety and security of the workers. Also, if a business profiting from the program closes down, a foreign worker doesn’t just lose their job – they most likely will have to leave the country at the end of their temporary visa, along with their spouse and children.

For the average Canadian, “temporary foreign workers” means seasonal agricultural workers coming in from Latin America. Until recent years, this has largely been true for the TFWP. There are, however, several streams to the program, including high-wage and low-wage positions in other sectors. The data on Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs)³ issued provide information on the number of positions approved for hiring under the various streams (figure 3). Low-wage positions greatly exceed high-wage positions and have increased dramatically in the last two years. In some provinces, particularly Alberta, Quebec and New Brunswick, the low-wage stream has even overtaken the primary agriculture stream. Many of the low-wage positions are in the food processing and manufacturing sectors where jobs are permanent rather than temporary.

Figure 3

This rapid increase in the hiring of foreign workers for low-wage positions did not happen by accident – it was deliberate Liberal policy. In April 2022, then–Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough announced several measures to facilitate the hiring of foreign workers in low-wage positions, including:

  • an end to the limit to the number of low-wage positions for employers in seasonal industries, making permanent a measure that had been in place since 2015;
  • an increase in the maximum duration of these positions from 180 days to 270 days per year;
  • an increase in the duration of the validity of LMIAs to 18 months (it had previously been raised from six to nine months);
  • extension of the maximum duration of employment for high-wage and global talent stream workers from two to three years to help workers access pathways to qualify for permanent residency (this was an admission that the TFWP was being used to fill permanent positions and an acknowledgement that low-wage stream workers generally do not qualify for permanent immigration programs);
  • an increase in the proportion of an employer’s workforce that could be hired through the TFWP for low-wage positions for one year to 30 per cent for seven sectors with demonstrated labour shortages, while all other employers will be allowed to hire up to 20 per cent of their workforce – up from 10 per cent – through the TFWP for low-wage positions until further notice;
  • an end to the automatic refusal of LMIA applications for low-wage occupations in the accommodation and food services and retail trade sectors in regions with an unemployment rate of 6 per cent or higher.

Agreements were signed between the Quebec and federal governments to increase the number of LMIA applications (from Quebec employers) which would be eligible for the “Simplified Process.” This program identifies hundreds of occupations for which employers would not have to demonstrate an effort to hire locally. The vacant positions are often not even posted in Quebec. The Quebec ministry of immigration now concentrates its international recruitment efforts on candidates for this program.

The explosion of work permits not linked to labour-market needs – the International Mobility Program: The International Mobility Program (IMP), the least known of the three temporary permit programs, now produces the most temporary residents: 765,855 permits issued in 2023. Over a hundred types of work permits fall under this program.

No LMIA is required for these work permits. The other distinction of this program is that most of the permits are “open” work permits, not linked to a specific employer.

The program used to be marginal, in the sense that these work permits generally did not lead to permanent residency and were for people such as diplomats, visiting academics and those coming to Canada to work temporarily under the auspices of international trade agreements like NAFTA (now CUSMA).

The IMP permit data break down the numbers into four categories and 18 subcategories. Figures 4 and 5 show the IMP trends. Figure 4 disaggregates the data in terms of four main categories, while figure 5 disaggregates the most significant “Canadian interests” subcategories.

Figure 5

The recent increase in “Other IMP Participants” is almost entirely due to the arrival of close to 300,000 Ukrainians. A ministerial decision known as a “public policy” and the IMP were used essentially to bypass regular processes, which require that refugee status be determined by the appropriate UN agency before arrival.⁴ The IMP and public policies have been used to react as quickly as possible to other humanitarian situations for Sudanese, Gazans, Iranians, Moroccans and some Afghans.⁵ The numbers of “other IMP participants” permits may now be expected to decline since the special Ukrainian entry program came to an end on March 31, 2024.

The Liberal government has used the IMP for a multitude of other purposes, for example:

  • to entice to Canada highly skilled immigrants in the United States with H-1B temporary work permits that were expiring;
  • to extend Post-Graduate Work Permits during and after the pandemic;
  • to provide temporary work permits for young Hong Kong residents with postsecondary diplomas and their family members after the establishment of the Hong Kong national security law.

Given their highly discretionary nature when linked to public policies, IMP permits can be created to target specific groups, in a discriminatory manner which would be almost impossible if a legislative pathway were required.

The IMP has also been used to compensate for long processing delays for permanent residency applications in the economic and family categories by offering open work permits to family members of these applicants while they wait for their permanent status. The same approach was taken with respect to temporary foreign workers when it was announced in October 2023 that spouses and working-age children of all temporary workers in the high- and low-wage streams would have access to an open IMP work permit, “resulting in family members of over 200,000 foreign workers being able to work in Canada.”

The most substantial IMP increases have been in the Canadian interests category. This category includes permits for:

  • International Experience Canada, a work-vacation program for young people from countries with which we have reciprocal agreements;
  • intracompany transfers;
  • visiting lecturers, research and education programs; and
  • charitable or religious work.

However, it is clear that the subcategories most on the rise have been driven by the growth in study permits, that is the Post-Graduate Work Permit (PGWP) and permits for the spouses of international students and of skilled temporary workers. Aside from offering the infrastructure for a pathway to permanent residency for international students, the spousal permits also aim to reduce the eventual number of applications for family reunification. They speak again to the fact that the government does not really view temporary work permits or study permits as temporary.

As with study permits, IMP open work permits effectively increase arrivals with no criteria linked to the needs of the Canadian labour market or economy.

The rise in asylum seekers

“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” Trudeau said on Twitter on January 28, 2017, the day after newly inaugurated U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning refugees and visitors from Muslim-majority countries. Trump had also proposed the mass deportation of illegal immigrants.

Quebec felt the impact of this tweet almost from the moment it was posted. Asylum seekers started to pour in by the infamous Roxham Road in southern Quebec, thanks to a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States. The agreement allowed the two governments to turn back asylum seekers, but only at regular points of entry – which Roxham Road was not. The numbers jumped from almost 24,000 in 2016 to more than 50,000 in 2017. They slowed during the border closures due to the pandemic, but started to rise rapidly in both Quebec and Ontario immediately following the reopening of the Canada-U.S. border in November 2021 (figure 6).

Quebec had to wait until the March 2023 meeting between Trudeau and President Biden for an amendment to the U.S.-Canada agreement that allowed the refusal of claimants along the entire border. Still, the numbers have continued to rise, with arrivals in Ontario outpacing those in Quebec in the first two months of 2024. The international airports in Toronto and Montreal are the major points of entry for flights from around the world, including most of Asia.

Around the same time, Sean Fraser decided to reduce the backlog of visitor visa applications. The Prime Minister was in an embarrassing position at a photo-op in mid-February 2022 when a young international student nurse recounted that her mother had been refused a visitor visa. The mother had wanted to be at her daughter’s side during hospitalization. Trudeau publicly announced that he had asked his Immigration Minister to ease up on applying certain visitor visa conditions. Two weeks later, Fraser did exactly that despite the warnings of his civil servants that this would likely result in more asylum claims. In fact, we do see increased claims at international airports as of March 2023.

Also, more and more people with study permits are claiming refugee status in Canada. Data are not available for the number with expiring work permits who are making asylum claims. As a result of the slowdown of the economy in 2023, expiring closed work permit numbers may increase asylum demands.

The Canadian immigration system has evolved into a two-step system that not only creates a huge and growing population of nonpermanent residents but also forces immigrants to live for many years on precarious temporary permits or as asylum claimants with no guarantee of permanent residency. Many of those who do not meet the conditions for permanent residency simply stay on as undocumented residents.

The Liberals’ policy decisions in pushing unconditional increases in the number of international students and facilitating foreign hiring, particularly for low-wage positions, explain the current situation. It should not be a surprise to the Prime Minister. In fact, if the objective was population increase, it’s one of the most successful policies the government has implemented. So what happened?

“Unexpected” side-effects of a successful population strategy

Red flags about the negative side-effects appeared almost immediately. Within a month of the April 2022 announcement of the easing of TFWP requirements, leading economists were warning that the new policy “risks undermining real wage growth and increasing income inequality, … driving down average living standards in Canada.” The economists of all the major banks and various think tanks eventually published similar analyses as the economic fallout of the policy started to show. Editorials in mainstream media reflected the economists’ analyses. As well, other publicized studies linked the increasing population to housing shortages and cost escalation. Statistics Canada regularly published figures showing not only the rapid increase in population but also the predominant role of nonpermanent residents in contributing to the rise.

An auditor general’s report criticized backlogs and processing times of permanent residency applications at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and questioned the department’s capacity to manage the additional workload. The report didn’t even look at the backlogs of citizenship and temporary visa and permit applications making the headlines.

Foreign students were found sleeping under bridges in Toronto, and asylum seekers were on the streets outside overflowing shelters. Demonstrators were calling for the regularization of undocumented workers, while stories circulated about exploitation and abuse of migrant workers, systemic fraud in the international studies program, and foreign students in Cape Breton having trouble finding work.

The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery published his report. Pressure was coming from Washington for Canada to require a visa for Mexican visitors because many were now being smuggled across the U.S.’s northern border, some dying in the process. (Smugglers have been doing the same for Indian nationals, despite a visa requirement.)

To top it off, the unthinkable happened. Polls were starting to show that many more Canadians – potential voters – were questioning the higher immigration targets and linking immigration to the housing crisis and pressure on education systems and other public services. With a general election looming in 2025 and with the knowledge that it would take some time for any reduction measures to show results, it was time for the government to act.

Turning the ship of state around

First item of business: shuffle the cabinet and change the ministers responsible for immigration and employment.

In July 2023, Fraser was moved, ironically, to the housing ministry and Marc Miller was put in place to try to turn the immigration ocean liner around. Randy Boissonnault took over Employment and Social Development. Miller and Boissonnault have been hard at work turning back many of their predecessors’ decisions, including permanent immigration levels, study permits, the TFWP and two of the permits in the IMP linked to international students.

Permanent immigration: At the end of October, Miller announced that he would not increase permanent immigration targets for 2026. They would remain at the 2025 level, 500,000. This will not make a significant difference in new arrivals since a large proportion are already in Canada with temporary status.

International students: On January 22, 2024, to curb the number of international students, at least temporarily, Miller announced a cap on college- and bachelor’s-level study permits for two years. The goal is to decrease the overall number of approved study permits this year to 360,000, about 35 per cent of the number in 2023.⁶ The 2025 targets are to be announced later in the year.

Post-Graduate Work Permits: PGWPs under the IMP will no longer be available to students enrolled in private/public colleges. There is no estimate of how many PGWPs this may represent, but it reverses the message that study permits are a direct path to permanent residency in Canada, particularly for college-level students. This message is reinforced by the decision that open work permits will be available to spouses of international students only in master’s and doctoral programs.

Asylum seekers: at the end of February Miller reapplied the pre-2015 visa requirement for Mexican travellers. It is a partial visa targeting a minority of Mexicans, and it is unclear whether this will make much difference. When the visa was lifted, asylum claims did go up slightly, but more from Indian nationals (who require a visa) than Mexicans. The global context has changed dramatically in the last ten years. Human smugglers, criminal organizations, have taken to the skies and are bringing in asylum seekers on planes; visas don’t seem to as effective as they used to be.

It should also be mentioned that in December 2023, Miller revoked Fraser’s order to ease up on the criteria for processing visitor visas. The ongoing increase in the number of asylum claims and the very problematic removal process for those whose claims are refused make this category of “temporary” residents the most difficult to predict and to control.

Overall temporary resident levels: Another announcement came on March 21, 2024. Miller announced that he is “targeting a decrease in our temporary residents population to 5 per cent over the next three years,” down from 6.2 per cent in 2023.⁷ This target will be finalized after consultations with the provinces and included, for the first time ever, with the permanent immigration targets in the immigration plan for 2025–27, to be tabled by the end of October 2024.

Temporary Foreign Workers Program: Then Miller handed the microphone to his colleague Randy Boissonnault, who rolled out a few backtracks on the TFWP. New Labour Market Impact Assessments will be valid for six months, clawed back from the previous announcement of 18 months. (There was no mention of the pilot project that Boissonnault himself had launched back in October, which provides for 36-month LMIAs for employers with a good track record in the TFWP.)

The total percentage of an employer’s workforce that can be hired through the TFWP was clawed back from 30 to 20 per cent. This will affect some, but not all, of the sectors to which Carla Qualtrough had applied the 30 per cent limit. It had been 10 per cent for all employers prior to 2022. None of the other elements of the 2022 strategy have been touched and no estimate has been provided for the real reduction in permits and workers.

Don’t blame us

So what can we expect as a result of these multiple announcements designed to convince us that the Liberals can bring order to the immigration system and get numbers under control?

I tend to agree with Tony Keller, who pointed out in an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail following the March 21 press conference that the target of 5 per cent of the population for temporary residents, if accomplished, would bring us back, in three years, to where we were in July 2023. Keller concluded, “What Miller served up should not be consumed without first adding many large grains of extra-coarse salt.” Henry Lotin, a research economist in this field, agrees that “given our immigration and entry laws, these targets will be almost impossible to achieve, certainly not by 2027.”

If we don’t notice much of a change by election time in 2025, whose fault will it be?

Miller provided the government’s answer in his March statement, identifying the culprits as well as the circumstances which were beyond the government’s control. Of course, there’s the pandemic: “Provinces and businesses needed us to bring more workers.” Also, “The chronic underfunding of post-secondary education and unscrupulous actors looking to profit off of vulnerable individuals – among others – led to exponential growth.” Not to be ignored, international conflicts are responsible: “Unprecedented levels of conflicts, economic and political upheaval, human rights abuses and climate change” left the government with no choice but to use temporary public policies to respond to these crises.

This government started out blindly inspired by Century Initiative siren calls that a bigger population is better for the economy and will set Canada up on the international scene, confident that Canadians would embrace the idea. Ignoring its own Advisory Council recommendations regarding highly skilled immigration, it responded willingly to “needs” expressed by the business community by providing cheap labour from foreign students and low-wage foreign workers and families. It has encouraged and accepted more applications than it can process for all types of visas and permits.

Instead of optimizing its permanent immigration system to respond more effectively to a rapidly evolving context, the government used temporary permits to entice people to the country, creating a vast class of residents who live here for years in precarious situations leading to exploitation and abuse by criminals, recruitment agencies, employers and landlords.

Had they known what was happening, Canadians would never have agreed to this kind of immigration structure. Have we really gotten to the point where our political system precludes, on issues as critical as how we welcome people into our society, a common political will to engage in a serious social dialogue for the benefit of all?

Continue reading “Changing Course on Immigration”

Ukrainian refugees crossing into Poland, 2022. Via Wikimedia Commons.

At a time when the Canadian government is promising to bring in 40,000 Afghan refugees and an unlimited number of Ukrainians fleeing the war, dozens of red flags signal that the regular immigration system in Canada and Quebec is out of control.

Nearly two million immigration applications awaiting processing

Let’s start with the number of files awaiting processing at the federal level. Citing numbers from Immigration Refugees Citizenship Canada, the CBC reported on March 21 that more than 1.8 million immigration files – applications for permanent residency, temporary study and work permits and citizenship – were waiting to be processed as of February 1.¹  Bit by bit the numbers are coming down in some categories. The number of applications for permanent residency had fallen by about 30,000 since the end of October to 519,030, including skilled workers, family reunification, refugees and asylum seekers. Applications for citizenship, down to 448,000, fell at the same rate. At this rate, if new applications aren’t added to the pile, it will take almost five years to process them all.

But new files are being added to the pile. The number of applications for temporary permits awaiting processing increased by 73,000 between the end of October 2021 and the beginning of February 2022, and the federal government continues its mission to ease the conditions for study and work permits.

On April 11, there were more than two million applications in the inventory, of which 1.1 million were for temporary permits, an increase of 230,000 since mid-March.

These people will generate a large portion of the new admissions because the government is doing everything it can to facilitate the transition from temporary to permanent status. In 2021, almost half of all permanent immigration to Canada, and approximately 75 per cent of the economic class, was made up of people who previously held these types of permits.

The increase in the number of people with temporary status will inevitably force an increase in permanent immigration targets, because applications for permanent residency will surpass the targets set by the Canadian and Quebec governments. It would be political suicide to refuse to process these applications. It would mean that the temporary permits of people who have been integrated into the country for years, studied here, worked, paid their taxes and started to raise their families would expire, and they would have to leave.

Then, as more and more people obtain permanent residency, applications for citizenship will increase. At least 85 per cent of people with permanent resident status in Canada apply for citizenship.

In the end, this means that we cannot expect to see a meaningful drop in the inventory of immigration applications any time soon. It’s like trying to fill the infamous bucket with a hole in the bottom.

Delays resulting from inventories and fluctuating priorities

This huge inventory of applications results, of course, in very long waiting times, particularly for permanent residency (as well as citizenship), where the wait is well over two years. The exception is for those with a temporary status applying for permanent residency through the Canadian Experience Class, for which the wait time, at the time of writing, is eight months.

Speeding up processing times and reducing inventories requires more officers, who need to be recruited, equipped and trained, which takes time. It also requires a more effective electronic processing system, which will also take at least several months to put in place, assuming there are no major glitches along the way.

It is not surprising that the government has had trouble putting procedures in place to welcome tens of thousands of Afghans and Ukrainians.

Major increase in immigration budgets

Receiving more applications means increased costs. The federal government had already announced $85 million in the fall of 2021 to reduce inventories. Then, the budget unveiled on April 5 provided for:

  • $2.1 billion over five years and $317.6 million ongoing in new funding to “support the processing and settlement of new permanent residents – including the government’s increased commitment to Afghan refugees”;
  • $385.7 million over five years, and $86.5 million ongoing “to facilitate the timely and efficient entry of a growing number of visitors, workers, and students”;
  • $1.3 billion over the next five years, and $331.2 million ongoing, “to support the long-term stability and integrity of Canada’s asylum system”;
  • $43.5 million in 2022–23 to “maintain federal support for immigration and refugee legal aid services”;
  • $187.3 million over five years, and $37.2 million ongoing, to improve “capacity to respond to a growing volume of enquiries and to invest in the technology and tools required to better support people using their services.”

These unprecedented increases in expenditures of almost $3.8 billion over five years, followed by $735.3 million annually, are broken down essentially by immigration category, but it is not really clear how much will go toward new electronic processing systems, how much to human resources and how much toward actually ensuring welcoming and resettlement services on the ground either in transfers to provinces or in grants to community organizations.

Biometrics may have become a rite of passage for security reasons, but access will have to be greatly facilitated with increasingly urgent international migrations. According to reports, this has been causing huge headaches, not only for Ukrainians but for immigration applicants in general, especially during the pandemic. This will also add to costs.

Moreover, it will take legislative action to allow automated and machine-assisted processing of citizenship applications and to require the electronic submission of asylum claims.

Proliferation of pathways for entering Canada and ad hoc policies

With the current world context of conflict, climate change and communicable disease, it is clear that any modern immigration policy needs to be flexible. But it raises the question of whether simply multiplying the pathways to temporary and permanent residency without first consulting and seeking consensus can be successful in the long run.

I have written previously about the dozens of pathways to permanent residency – federal and provincial – that were created across the country in recent years, as well as the hundreds of types of temporary permits made available, particularly under the International Mobility Program.²

We are now seeing a proliferation of “public policies.” This mechanism, provided for in the federal law on immigration, allows the minister to change the rules for granting permanent residency or to apply exemptions to other rules if he or she “is of the opinion that it is justified by public policy considerations.”³  In fact, we see that the device is often used to modify the rules that apply to temporary immigration.

These “public policies,” adopted by ministerial decree, seem to have been used very infrequently for several years, but recently the numbers have taken an extraordinary leap, as illustrated in figure 1.

They typically target particular situations and very specific clienteles, such as people with temporary status caught up in the consequences of the fires in British Columbia or private sponsorship of refugees from Syria and Iraq. There have been several in the last two years to protect the status of foreign nationals caught up in travel restrictions during the pandemic. But this type of ad hoc policy can also be quite general in scope: for example, a form of exemption from language requirements for people who cannot be assessed because of a physical or mental disability.
There is a political and potentially discriminatory dimension as well. Thus, the “temporary public policy to exempt certain Hong Kong residents from work permit requirements,” updated in February 2021, aimed to “attract educated Hong Kong youth to Canada, where it is expected that their human capital and international experience will contribute to Canada’s economic, social, and cultural fabric. At the same time, Canada’s response demonstrates its solidarity with other like-minded allies, and its robust support for, and defense of, democratic values.”⁴ This is clearly a valid humanitarian gesture, but the reasoning could be applied to many other regions in the world.

Unilateral modifications to temporary immigration rules and inconsistencies

The federal government is also using its control over temporary immigration to change rules. It made an announcement on April 1 to relax certain requirements of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program across Canada. In 2016, it created a new open permit under the International Mobility Program for employers outside Quebec who hire French speakers from abroad. Since francophone immigration is just as important in Quebec, if not more so, it is not clear why Quebec employers are excluded.

There are instances of inexplicable inconsistency. For several years, the federal government has been touting its determination to encourage foreign students to stay permanently in the country by facilitating their path to permanent residency. And yet it never amended the regulation requiring that people applying to study in Canada demonstrate that they will leave the country at the end of their stay. This has resulted in large numbers of study permit applications being refused, especially from African countries, because the intention to leave was not clear enough in the application. Another unintended result of this situation is that, given that many of the African countries are members of the Francophonie, these refusals are affecting government efforts to attract francophone immigration inside and outside Quebec.

Different processes are being used for different groups. The announced 40,000 Afghans are arriving as refugees. To be recognized as a refugee, the person must be outside their country of origin and officially recognized by the United Nations refugee agency. People accepted under this program receive support for health services, initial lodging and other integration services. For Ukrainians fleeing the war, a special three-year temporary residency permit has been created. Since they are not entitled to the same level of service as recognized refugees, the federal government had to announce special temporary funding to help with their initial settlement needs.

Finally, each time a new priority or process is announced, the human and financial resources initially allocated to the processing of regular files and applications needs to be redirected. The decisions and the new processes must be explained to the staff, the new procedures – electronic and otherwise – put in place, websites adjusted, information officers trained to answer questions, notices distributed to stakeholders, etc.

Lack of consultation with the provinces

Under current law, the federal government is required to undertake consultations with the provinces on the multiyear planning of immigration levels. But there is no obligation to consult on temporary immigration or “public policies,” and hence there has been no systematic open consultation with provincial governments prior to the announcement of these decisions. This means that no consideration is given to housing or childcare capacities on the ground, or to the effect of this rapid population increase on schools, health and social service systems or public transit.
Different types of immigration require different services. Well-meaning Canadians and Quebecers are opening their homes to new arrivals, particularly from conflict zones. Aside from the cultural differences, many of these people, adults and children alike, will suffer posttraumatic stress disorder for which the sponsors are not prepared. Without proper planning and consultation with the provinces that provide these services, the fallout could be problematic, not only for the human beings concerned but politically as well.

The usual argument for increasing temporary immigration is to resolve labour market shortages. These shortages vary significantly from one region, rural or urban, to another. However, for the most part, specific local considerations are not identified, and there is no way to ensure any link between the expertise and work experience of these newcomers with open work and study permits and local labour market needs.

Situation mirrored in Quebec

Despite its special powers recognized in the Canada-Quebec Agreement on Immigration, Quebec is caught in the net of the improvised federal system in many respects. It has no control over federal processing times. Like the federal government, it too improvises new programs that take longer than expected to implement and do not produce the expected results.

It also encourages temporary immigration, which increases the number of applications for Quebec Selection Certificates (QSC), a required step toward permanent residency for people wanting to settle in Quebec. The delivery of QSCs continues apace, and then these people, having passed the months-long Quebec process, become victims of the long federal processing times when they apply for their permanent resident visas.

Contrary to the federal government, the Quebec government does not want to be seen to be raising its targets for permanent immigration. The federal government then will sometimes slow down the granting of permanent resident visas in Quebec to respect these targets. The result is that delays for those trying to obtain permanent status to settle in Quebec can be even longer than for those applying for other provinces.

The essential need for a clear vision and efficient infrastructure

Immigration is a fundamentally human project, transforming the lives of people and the cohesion of societies around the world. The success of this crucial project – for the people who migrate, for Canadian and Quebec societies, and for the countries of origin – requires a clear political vision supported by an efficient legislative and administrative infrastructure. Can we be confident that our reputation as a “welcoming” society will hold up with an increasingly improvised and often inefficient immigration system?

Could Quebec fully control immigration?

In response to a question in the National Assembly on April 27, Quebec Premier François Legault said he wants his government to have full control of all immigration in Quebec.ᵃ His minister of immigration, Jean Boulet, had earlier said that he wants to open and renegotiate the 1991 Canada-Quebec Accord on immigration. I would strongly suggest that the Quebec government take greater advantage of the power already conferred by the accord before trying to renegotiate.

The immigration accord was negotiated during the period when the Meech Lake Accord was awaiting approval by the provincial legislatures to be entrenched in the Constitution. We all know how that went. The Canada-Quebec Immigration Agreement was designed as the implementation of the second point in the Meech Lake Accord:

2. The Government of Canada will, as soon as possible, conclude an agreement with the Government of Quebec that would

a. incorporate the principles of the Cullen-Couture agreement on the selection abroad and in Canada of independent immigrants, visitors for medical treatment, students and temporary workers, and on the selection of refugees abroad and economic criteria for family reunification and assisted relatives,

b. guarantee that Quebec will receive a number of immigrants, including refugees, within the annual total established by the federal government for all of Canada proportionate to its share of the population of Canada, with the right to exceed that figure by per cent for demographic reasons, and

c. provide an undertaking by Canada to withdraw services (except citizenship services) for the reception and integration (including linguistic and cultural) of all foreign nationals wishing to settle in Quebec where services are to be provided by Quebec, with such withdrawal to be accompanied by reasonable compensation, and the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec will take the necessary steps to give the agreement the force of law under the proposed amendment relating to such agreements.

At the time, the Canadian and Quebec governments decided to go ahead with the immigration accord despite the failure of Meech. The two governments therefore considered it essentially a quasi-constitutional accord, delegating to Quebec all the powers it needed to ensure that immigration in the province would not have long-term negative effects on the “distinct society.”

The federal-provincial context has changed substantially since 1991. The Canada-Quebec Accord is the envy of the other provinces, especially the provision for financial compensation. It is extremely unlikely that the current federal government will agree to delegate to Quebec even more powers in immigration, or provide more money. The other provinces would insist on the same treatment.

The formula used to calculate the annual transfer to Quebec sets as a floor the amount transferred the year before. So the amount can never go down, even if Quebec welcomes fewer immigrants. It can only stay the same or go up. This has been the major reason why no Quebec government has ever suggested reopening the agreement. Also, unlike federal-provincial agreements since, there is no time limit on the accord – no requirement for renewal, say, every five years.

The only reason ever offered as to why the current Quebec government wants full power over immigration is to be able to require relatives sponsored under the family reunification program to have a knowledge of French. There are many other ways to facilitate and encourage French-language learning in this category without going to the point of refusing reunification. There have been no other indications of what the Quebec government would do with full power over humanitarian immigration or even temporary immigration. Given its positions so far on temporary immigration, it would seem that Quebec would open it up even more, even though language doesn’t seem so important when it comes to foreign temporary workers or even foreign students.

The Quebec government could theoretically better assert its powers, even over temporary immigration, within the confines and the spirit of the current accord, including with respect to its objectives regarding francophone immigration. It would be wise to try. It is risky to think it will come out ahead if the accord is reopened.

It is also impossible to conceive of a subnational government having full control over immigration. Far too much is determined at the national and international levels, including humanitarian commitments, migrant safety, border openings, crossing and closings, citizenship/nationality, international health and security concerns. The 1867 Constitution allows for provinces to legislate in this field alongside the federal government, but all provincial legislation must be compatible with federal laws.

Continue reading “Our Immigration Policy is Out of Control”

Photo by Matt.Hebert, via Flickr.

In the first week of November, the CEO of Air Canada, Michael Rousseau, announced that his upcoming speech to the Metropolitan Montreal Chamber of Commerce would be in English only.

Immediately the Quebec media started to protest. Apparently, he received warnings from the federal Commissioner of Official Languages and from the Quebec government that it would be wise to ensure that at least some parts of the speech be in French. But to no avail. After an awkward “Bonjour,” he proceeded with his speech in English only. When asked by journalists about how it looked that the head of Air Canada, with its head office in Montreal, had not used French in this major appearance, he calmly proclaimed that he had more pressing things to do than learn French. To top it off, he declared he had lived in English for 14 years in the Montreal area and that this was a testament to the city!

The same week, Immigration Canada posted unilingual English positions for its Montreal call centre, claiming it couldn’t find bilingual candidates because of the labour shortage. The chief judge of the Cour du Québec decided to sue the Justice Minister, who is also the minister responsible for the French language, because a call for candidates for several justice positions in five regions, including Montreal, did not include any requirement of a knowledge of English.

So language was once again making headlines in Quebec, just as the latest attempt to reform the French Language Charter, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec, commonly referred to as Bill 96, was being adopted in principle by the National Assembly.

Election promises

The renewed discussion in Quebec about how to protect the French language has actually been a long time coming. The 2018 election platform of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), which won the election under François Legault, contained several promises to act to protect the French language in Quebec.

The CAQ promised to strengthen the powers of the Office Québécois de la Langue Française (OQLF), with a view to increasing the francization of the workplace.¹ It also announced that it would appoint a Commissioner of the French Language to deal with complaints from the public and make recommendations to the government, and promised compulsory francization for any “new arrival” requesting a Quebec Selection Certificate (QSC).²

This last promise revealed an astonishing lack of understanding of how the Quebec immigration system works. And it only got worse as the campaign progressed because Legault went further, saying that new arrivals, after spending three years in Quebec, would have to pass a test demonstrating an understanding of Quebec values and the French language. If they failed, they could try again in a year, and if they failed again, they would not receive their QSC and would have to leave Quebec. Once the CAQ was in power, someone finally explained to them that no provincial government, not even Quebec, has the power of expulsion. The idea was dropped.

Other parties also promised to protect the French language. The issue was prominent in the Parti Québécois (PQ) platform, which promised to reform the French Language Charter (Bill 101), apply it to companies with 25 or more employees (rather than the current floor of 50 employees), require employers to justify English requirements when hiring, and select only immigrants who have learned French before arrival. Québec Solidaire (QS) vowed to strengthen French in the workplace and apply Bill 101 to companies of 10 employees or more. The Liberals’ commitments were harder to find and confined essentially to strengthening the francization of the workplace.

How do we measure the future of a language?

The incidents mentioned above are only the latest components of the backdrop that led to the legislation. There had been growing pressure for the government to act. Its own OQLF has published 12 studies since 2018 on various subjects, including the use of French in retail stores, in the workplace and in public, the proportion of companies and municipalities requiring a knowledge of English in their hiring, and the number of anglophone, francophone and allophone students registered in English and French schools and postsecondary institutions. There were also several demolinguistic studies on the language spoken most frequently in the home by Quebec francophones, anglophones, allophones and immigrants, as well as projections of the strength of French, English and third languages up to 2036. Many of these studies were used to produce the five-year analysis of the situation of the French language published in 2018, required under the French Language Charter.

Linguistic demographers, including those at Statistics Canada, make their predictions on the future strength of a language using data on the language spoken most often at home and its corollary, language substitution. If I answer on the census form that my mother tongue is Italian and the language I speak most often at home is French, I have made a language substitution (or transfer). Looking at the trend in language substitutions along with demographic trends (birth and death rates, migrations) and immigration levels, linguistic demographers can predict how many people will be speaking a particular language several years into the future. The language spoken at home is considered to be the best predictor of the language that will be spoken by the next generation. Immigration trends and rates of language substitution among immigrants significantly influence the future of French in Quebec. Also, more and more, we are seeing mother-tongue francophones in Quebec speaking English in the home.

Although there is a consensus among experts on the use of the home language indicator, many outside the field, particularly in Quebec, are uncomfortable with the idea of measuring the language spoken at home, arguing that it is the language spoken in public that counts and constitutes the objective of the Language Charter: French as the official and common language of Quebec, as Bill 96 states.

Language policy in Quebec, or anywhere in Canada for that matter, has never legislated the language spoken at home. But language spoken at home is currently recognized as the best indicator for measuring the intergenerational survival of a language. A simple statistic illustrates the difference between the future of French in Quebec and the future of English in Canada. In 2016, among allophones who spoke either English or French as principal home language, in Quebec 55 per cent had chosen French and 45 per cent had chosen English, whereas in the rest of Canada over 99 per cent had chosen English.

What do defenders of French want?

Organizations defending the French language have concentrated their calls for action on a few specific issues. They want the provincial public sector to put more emphasis on French in its interactions with citizens, rather than automatically switching to English if faced with someone who is not francophone. They want less automatic bilingualism in retail outlets and restaurants (the famous “Bonjour-Hi” debate).

The demand likely to do most in slowing the decline of French in Quebec would be to apply the same rules on access to English cegeps as on access to English primary and secondary schools since passage of Bill 101 in 1977.³ In oversimplified terms, Bill 101 specifies that only children with at least one parent who received most of his or her Canadian primary schooling in English may be registered in English public schools in Quebec. The shorthand for this demand is “applying Bill 101 to cegeps.”

Another proposal is to finance English and French cegeps proportionally to the English and French mother-tongue populations in Quebec. In the past, the debate centred on the attraction of English cegeps to allophones coming out of French high schools, but recent studies have brought to light a significant and increasing number of native-born French-speaking Quebecers choosing to attend the English cegeps.

At least four recent books examining the linguistic situation in Quebec and Canada highlight the attraction of English cegeps in Quebec. Two are by Charles Castonguay, with titles roughly translated as French in Freefall and The Fiasco of Canadian Language Policy; the other two are by Frédéric Lacroix: again roughly translated, Why Bill 101 is a Failure and Free Choice? English Cegeps and International Students: Diversion, Anglicization and Fraud. The authors, both of whom write regularly in a left-wing online (with monthly print edition) journal called L’Aut’journal, have gotten a fair amount of French media coverage.⁴

The CAQ itself has triggered outcries by announcing large sums for the expansion of the English cegep that has come to dominate admissions on the island of Montreal, Dawson College, as well as by ceding to McGill University the old Royal Victoria Hospital, largely emptied since the opening of the English megahospital, McGill University Health Centre.

Other demands include eliminating the blanket requirement of a knowledge of English in hiring. This trend is expanding, according to the OQLF’s own study. It is a concern because anglicization of the workplace in Quebec hinders efforts to francize new arrivals. There have been demands to expand the number of companies required to meet francization criteria established by the OQLF. At this point, companies with 50 or more employees are covered by these criteria. The PQ, when in power, tried unsuccessfully to apply them to companies with 25 or more employees. QS, the second opposition party, proposes to bring the threshold down to 10 employees, largely to include the companies where immigrants are most present.

Organizations defending French, along with the PQ (currently the third opposition party) and QS, also lament the fact that the annual proportion of new permanent residents who declare a knowledge of French has dipped below 50 per cent and that the francization of new arrivals does not seem to be working. The Quebec Auditor General, in a report published at the end of 2017, severely criticized the effectiveness of the Ministry of Immigration’s francization programs and the lack of means of even measuring their effectiveness. Even though extra money has been invested in the programs and eligibility criteria have been widened, there is still no evidence of improvement in the results.

Until recently, nationalists have consistently called for reduction in immigration levels to resolve the language problem. However, it has become evident that the French language is threatened by much more than the immigrants who come to Quebec and are faced with learning not only French but also English if they want to get work. Employers are constantly pushing for immigration levels to rise because of labour shortages. The evolution away from blaming immigrants for the problems facing the future of French, while not complete, is a welcome one. The language debate can no longer be used to hide fundamentally ethnocentric anti-immigrant sentiments.

Leaving francophones hungry for more and anglophones nervous

In the first two years of the CAQ’s mandate, the government proposed little to strengthen the protection of French, but in 2020 Premier Legault shuffled his cabinet and put Simon Jolin-Barrette in charge of the file. Jolin-Barrette had been Immigration Minister, and during his time in that portfolio he opened francization programs to temporary workers. He was also the minister who brought in the controversial secularism law, Bill 21 – and managed to get it adopted. Now, as Justice Minister, he will be overseeing the court cases arising from that legislation.

Jolin-Barrette is a young lawyer – brilliant, doggedly nationalist and very close to the Premier. He is also interested in constitutional law, particularly as it applies to Quebec. Shortly after taking over responsibility for the French language file, he started making “teaser” announcements. In August, October and November 2020, he repeatedly promised an “action plan” on language reform “soon.” Finally, in May 2021, he and the Premier tabled Bill 96. No action plan, no white paper. Instead, a 100-page bill with more than 200 articles. This is an extremely long and complex piece of legislation, purported to be an overhaul of the French Language Charter.

The lack of a white paper or action plan to accompany the legislation meant that the vision of the government’s reform was ungrounded. Press releases, press conferences, media interviews and a Facebook post from the Premier all made mention of the decline of French in Quebec and exalted the government’s response. However, such issues as declining francophone immigration rates and the increasing pervasiveness of English in the arts, culture and media were avoided.

The legislation does address the major concerns raised by the groups defending the French language in recent years, but it does so in such a way that nobody is convinced it will make a difference – many feel that several of the proposed changes will be impossible to implement. More than 50 stakeholder groups and experts were heard in legislative committee in October. They all agreed with the principle of taking measures to protect the French language, and only the anglophone representatives refused to speculate on the actual decline of French. But when it came to the details, the questions and concerns were numerous.

Some reactions were predictable. The private sector doesn’t want any more red tape and the Chamber of Commerce – which warned the CEO of Air Canada not to give a speech in English only – resisted any obligation to justify requiring English in the hiring process and made veiled threats that more rigorous language regulation would result in companies leaving Montreal for Toronto.

The legislation attempts to reassure anglophones that government services will continue to be available in English and, at the same time, assure francophones that French will be the exclusive language of communication with the government for anyone except anglophones. The reassurances aren’t working. Bill 96 muddies the waters by introducing a definition of eligible anglophones which is different from the one found in the Health and Social Services Act. The new definition will be impossible to implement because the identifying information does not exist in any government database.

Since the government reform has not addressed the issue of selecting immigrants who already have knowledge of French, it is putting all its eggs in the basket of francizing immigrants once they have arrived – despite its lack of results in this field. The bill “creates” an organization called Francisation Québec, an administrative unit of the Ministry of Immigration, that will ostensibly coordinate all government-financed adult French second-language courses in the province with an interactive platform that will offer one-stop access.

The proposal received unanimous support from groups working with immigrants. The problem is that successive governments since 2005 have announced and attempted to install a similar, much less ambitious platform, including one-stop access targeting only adult immigrants and only French-language courses offered by the two ministries of Immigration and Education. It’s still far from operational in the fall of 2021.

The government, in particular the Premier himself, has rejected the option of applying Bill 101 to cegeps. It wants to maintain the option of free choice, particularly because it is the choice of so many young francophones, a key target group for the CAQ.
It has come up with a complicated formula to cap admissions to English cegeps in such a way as to ensure that the proportion of college students enrolled in these institutions will not grow. It also wants to reserve spaces in the English colleges for students graduating from English high schools. Some anglophones are currently not accepted into English colleges because they don’t have the marks to get in. This is raising the concern that the English cegeps are becoming more elitist. None of the concerned groups understand how the system will actually function and the Quebec Liberal Party spokesperson on language, Hélène David, a former Minister of Higher Education, dismisses the idea as inoperable.

Several researchers testifying before the committee pointed out the confusion in the bill over which organization, the Commission of the French Language or the OQLF, is tasked with producing the studies and analyses of the situation and future of French. The independence of this research is considered critical, and if left with the OQLF it would be subject to ministerial review prior to publication. Some have argued it should instead be in the purview of an independent director of research, perhaps linked to the new Commissioner of the French Language, created by the bill and reporting to the National Assembly.

All these ambiguities and many others will come out in the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill which should start before the National Assembly session breaks in the second week of December.

Symbolic gestures?

But it is two other elements in this bill that are the most likely to draw reaction outside Quebec.

As in Bill 21, the Act respecting the Laicity of the State, the government has included “notwithstanding” clauses to protect the new language act against judicial moves based on the Quebec and Canadian charters of human rights. Jolin-Barrette puts a positive spin on this decision, referring to it as “parliamentary sovereignty.” Predictably, anglophone rights groups, the Commission de Droits de la Personne du Québec and some of the constitutionalists who testified criticized these notwithstanding clauses.

Some wondered which aspects of the bill the government is afraid would be contested. A reasonable question, since there doesn’t seem to be anything that goes against current Canadian jurisprudence on language. However, these clauses represent an important symbolic gesture because many elements of the original French Language Charter were ruled unconstitutional after they were challenged on the basis of equality rights in the Canadian Charter. The use of notwithstanding clauses in Bill 96 is a signal that the CAQ does not want the same thing to happen to this legislation.

The surprise feature of Bill 96 was a clause that amends the Constitution Act, 1867.

Section 159 reads:

The Constitution Act, 1867 (30 & 31 Victoria, c. 3 (U.K.); 1982, c. 11 (U.K.)) is amended by inserting the following after section 90:
“90Q.1. Quebecers form a nation.
“90Q.2. French shall be the only official language”

The government defends this approach based on the unilateral amendment procedure in Section 45 of the Constitution Act, 1982. This article provides that the legislature of each province may exclusively (unilaterally) make laws amending the constitution of the province. Eight constitutionalists were invited to testify on this section of the bill. Although they all agreed that Quebec can do what it wants with respect to its internal constitution, they differed widely on whether entrenching two provincial constitutional principles in the Canadian constitution would pass muster and, even if it did, whether it would be more than symbolic. Supporters of the idea are convinced that this is constitutional and that, once entrenched, the principles would be considered by the courts when reviewing Quebec legislation. Other constitutionalists are of the opinion that the proposal changes the basic structure of the Canadian constitution, which cannot be accomplished unilaterally. Time will tell. In the meantime, Jolin-Barrette clearly feels that this is quite a coup and that it will reinforce Quebec nationalist pride and give supralegislative protection to Quebec language legislation.

More electoral strategy than practical implementation

Bill 96 was adopted in principle on November 9. The session breaks on December 10 and resumes on February 1, 2022. The government undoubtedly aims to have the bill adopted before the end of the spring session on June 10, perhaps even early in the session since the bill provides that the sections related to English cegeps will be in place for the 2022–23 school year. Cegeps start their fall semester the week before Labour Day. In anticipation of Bill 96’s not being passed in time, the Higher Education Minister announced in June 2021 that the number of places in English cegeps will be frozen for 10 years. This decision seems to undermine the French language bill and is actually slightly more restrictive with respect to access to English cegeps. Many other aspects of the bill won’t come into effect within a year and certain measures won’t come into effect within three years.

Clause-by-clause study will be arduous. The Quebec Liberals, on day one of the experts’ and stakeholders’ hearings, warned the government not to try to use closure to get the bill adopted precipitously and reiterated this notice during the debate on adoption in principle. Was this a legitimate concern that there is a lot to cover and it needs to be done right – or a warning by the Liberals that they intend to filibuster the next step? Either way, the government used closure to get Bill 21 enacted and won’t hesitate to do the same with this legislation.

Despite the notwithstanding clauses, there will undoubtedly be legal challenges to various parts of the legislation, notably the section that amends the Canadian constitution.

The next Quebec election will be in early October 2022. The government is aware that very little of the new act will be implemented by that time. For electoral purposes, what’s important is that it be adopted and that the measures related to English cegeps and the constitutional amendment be in place. The reform of the French Language Charter and Bill 21 will be front and centre for the CAQ in the next elections.

In a future issue of Inroads, we will come back to this legislation to look at its final form and the debate, if any, that it triggers inside and outside Quebec.

Continue reading “Quebec’s Language Debate, 2021–22 Edition”

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.


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”