What Quebec French laws mean for immigrants

(Katarina Martins / The McGill Policy Association)

(Katarina Martins / The McGill Policy Association)

For residents of the “McGill bubble,” it can be easy to fall back on the English language in their daily interactions. The bubble, which encompasses the Milton-Parc community, describes McGill’s linguistic and cultural isolation from the rest of  Montreal. Unlike students living near campus, language politics in Quebec are a recurring concern for many, especially prospective and newly-arrived immigrants. More specifically, the inability to speak French presents a much bigger hurdle for new immigrants to integrate into society. Although a recent report from Statistics Canada has shown that French remains the primary language spoken among 83.7 per cent of the population, concerns surrounding the preservation of the French language persist. Recent provincial elections have only stoked up these fears and allowed the language debate to remain a focal point of contention. With language at the core of national identity and politics in Quebec, it is necessary to evaluate the different policies put in place for immigration and the preservation of French and Quebecois culture. With the Coalition Avenir Québec’s (CAQ) proposals to reduce immigration by 20 per cent and impose French language and Quebec values tests , it is even more important to analyze current immigration policy in line with the preservation of French in the province.

French proficiency tests for prospective immigrants

Currently, the two primary immigration tracks are divided into the Québec Experience Program (PEQ), a simplified process, as well as the regular program for skilled workers. Prospective applicants are required to obtain the Quebec Selection Certificate (CSQ), a document that grants them the possibility to apply for Canadian permanent residency through federal immigration authorities. Before doing so, they must pass the Test d’évaluation de français (TEF Canada / TEFaQ), a French proficiency test.  The main debates surrounding current immigration policies in Quebec are centered on the red-tape that has jeopardized applications. For example, getting a low score on the TEFaQ automatically disqualifies potential candidates from the permanent residency process. Including the French language examination process, immigration applications might take years and leave the immigration status of many uncertain. Led by François Legault, the CAQ plans on further enforcing these existing measures and reducing the number of immigrants. Throughout his campaign, Legault has repeatedly stated that the government would not allow immigrants to stay if they fail the French language and Quebec values tests. Apart from French proficiency tests during the application process, immigrants who are granted residency in Quebec are required to participate in additional programs to help them settle down and adjust to the community.

Francisation programs

Upon their arrival in Quebec, immigrants have to participate in mandatory French lessons. Targeting newly-arrived immigrants of all ages, these francisation programs include full-time or part-time French courses and fall under the oversight of the Ministry of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion (MIDI). However, debates have surfaced surrounding the effectiveness of such programs in equipping new immigrants with the adequate French-speaking skills to enter the workforce. According to Auditor-General Guylaine Leclerc’s report to the National Assembly in 2017, fewer than one in 10 of the adult students enrolled in the government’s main francisation programs become proficient enough to enter the workforce or pursue postsecondary studies in French. Another point of contention is the funding allocated to these programs, given that the MIDI’s language support budget in 2016 was $74.5 million. The utility and resources allocated to such initiatives have continued to fuel concerns about immigration and whether it poses a threat to the preservation of the French language in Quebec.