Canada: French in Quebec heading home

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Jan 20 16:24:26 UTC 2008

French in Quebec heading home

'We are strangers here, and yet we had been assured we would be warmly welcomed'

January 19, 2008
Sean Gordon
Quebec Bureau Chief

MONTREAL–A curious thing is happening in Quebec: immigrants from
France, highly prized and ardently recruited, are packing up in droves
and quitting the snowy province. "We are strangers here, and yet we
had been assured we would be warmly welcomed," Rodolphe Claret, who
emigrated to Montreal in 2005, recently told an interviewer from La
Presse. "They made their pitch very effectively, it was a beautiful
package, they showed us graphs and photos, we wanted to believe in
it."  But after two years of working at menial jobs and struggling to
make ends meet, Claret and his wife sold their bungalow and
possessions and returned to France.

The Clarets and thousands like them are enmeshed in the perennial
problem that afflicts immigrants to Canada: the inability to transfer
foreign qualifications and work experience. To address the problem, a
new study from researchers at the Université de Montréal is
recommending that Canada overhaul its immigration policy to favour
younger candidates like foreign students and temporary workers, for
whom foreign experience and credentials form less of a barrier. "There
is a serious lack of consistency between the government policy of
wanting to attract qualified new immigrants to the labour market, and
the reality that confronts those immigrants when employers refuse to
recognize their experience and qualifications," the study finds.

The review is also needed, say the authors, to reverse the current
trend that sees each successive generation of immigrants earn less
money than its predecessor. The study shows that Ontario's immigrants
have historically fared better financially than new arrivals in Quebec
and British Columbia, but that situation is changing. In the 1990s,
immigrants to Ontario fell behind those in Quebec and B.C. in terms of
salary. Together the three provinces are home to 90 per cent of
immigrants to the country. The income gap is growing, the researchers
say, despite new programs aimed at integrating immigrants, largely
because Quebec has a greater say in what immigrants it accepts, and
because B.C. has a longer experience with new arrivals from Asia, who
now form the bulk of immigrants to Canada.

The study found new arrivals to Ontario in the 1990s earned an average
of 18 per cent less than those who immigrated in the 1960s. Those
figures stood at 27.1 per cent in Quebec and 31 per cent in B.C. for
the same time period. But in the 1990s, Ontario immigrants earned an
average of 5 per cent less than in the 1980s, whereas Quebec and B.C.
immigrants' salaries remained flat. The study, billed as the first
comparative analysis of its kind, also tried to explain the phenomenon
by examining economic conditions, country of provenance, gender and
language skills.

"And we found that language skills by far are the most important
factor in determining economic success," said Université de Montréal
industrial relations professor Brahim Boudarbat, a labour economist
who co-authored the study with doctoral student Maude Boulet.
Economic cycles, by contrast, have had a negligible impact. The
researchers also discovered that immigrant women in Quebec and
immigrant men in B.C. tend to be the hardest hit in terms of earning
potential, and that immigrants from Africa and Latin America have a
comparatively harder time having their qualifications recognized.

The situation is particularly difficult for women, "who must
effectively be prepared to start from scratch" upon arriving in
Canada, Boudarbat wrote in the study. Because of an agreement reached
in the 1960s, Quebec is allowed to select its "economic class"
immigrants, and in the last six or seven years has changed its
policies to favour North African and European francophones. "Quebec
has effectively managed to stop the bulk of the economic decline of
its immigrants," Boudarbat said. "The fact that other provinces don't
have as much control over their immigration policies is necessarily an
important factor. Ontario and B.C. simply don't have the same means to

While Quebec's immigrants now tend to be better educated than
elsewhere in the country – the result of a provincial policy decision
– it's also where the income gap between university-educated
immigrants and those without higher degrees is deepest. "A society and
an economy doesn't just need PhDs, you need to recruit all kinds of
people in a diversified economy, skilled and not," said Yann Hairaud,
head of a non-profit Montreal agency that helps French immigrants
adjust to Quebec life. "The fundamental problem we see, and it's one
that affects all immigrants to Canada, is the recognition of
experience and qualifications."

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