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Quebec is considering a policy change to welcome more immigrants, with one condition: it only wants French speakers.
The Canadian province is under pressure from business groups to loosen its cap on the number of permanent newcomers it lets in, to alleviate a labor shortage. The government of Premier Francois Legault now says one option is to gradually increase the limit to 60,000 people a year — a 20 per cent bump. But knowledge of the province’s dominant language will be mandatory for the majority of them.
“In the future and this is the first time in the history of Quebec, to file an application to become an economic immigrant, you will have to know French,” Legault said after the release of a policy document by Quebec’s immigration department.
The province of 8.8 million people is the only part of Canada where more people use French than English, and its government has unique powers over immigration. Under the nationalist Legault, that has meant a restrictive policy — to the dismay of businesses that are crying out for workers. The province’s capital, Quebec City, has an unemployment rate of just 1.7 per cent, for example.
Five years ago, 72 per cent of so-called “economic immigrants” to Quebec had working knowledge of French. Legault’s objective is to bring it to 96 per cent by 2026. The level of French-language skills needed will depend on the job, with exceptions for specialized roles in fields such as sports and science.
‘EXACTLY THE VISION’
If adopted, the new rules would not apply to refugees and those who are reuniting with family. Students and workers are temporary visas would also be exempt from the language requirement.
“The government has realized the obvious by changing the rules of the game to make them more flexible and adapted to the labor market,” said Karl Blackburn, president of the Conseil du Patronat du Quebec, a lobby group representing large companies. “More graduate students and skilled workers who speak French will be able to settle here permanently. This is exactly the vision of businesses.”
Legault, leader of the nationalist Coalition Avenir Quebec party, was reelected with a huge majority last October after promising to stop what he sees as the decline of the French language, especially in Montreal. Failure to control the flow of non-French-speaking immigrants could pose a threat to the province’s “national cohesion,” he said while campaigning.
In Quebec, 77.5 per cent of people spoke mostly French at home in 2021, a decline of 1.5 basis points from five years earlier, according to Statistics Canada. Still, 93.7 per cent say they’re comfortable holding a conversation in French.
The new measures come less than a year after the government adopted a new law, known as Bill-96, requiring Quebec-based companies to serve clients, write contracts and favor a working environment in French. The Office québécois de la langue francaise can be called to verify the compliance of a company’s communications and issue fines.