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The Quebec government presented new immigration guidelines in the spring, and within them the message was clear: language is now an ironclad condition for permanent settlement in the province.
The tightening of the rules will have a major impact not only on future immigrants, but also on those already living in Quebec. It also marks the consolidation of the approach to permanent immigration advocated by the governing Coalition Avenir Quebec: ensuring protection of the French language first, before the demographic or economic growth immigration brings. Quebec will only welcome more immigrants if it can increase the number of French-speaking economic immigrants.
The new approach includes a reform of the skilled worker selection program, an overhaul of the Quebec Experience Program (QEP), and changes to the conditions of the family reunification program, the investor program and the self-employed worker program.
Higher qualifications, greater language requirements
While language skills have always been central to Quebec’s immigration policy (implemented through the province’s powers under the 1991 Canada-Quebec Accord), the CAQ’s approach increases language requirements for all economic immigration programs.
A new Skilled Worker Selection Program (PSTQ) will be introduced. In the current program, knowledge of French could increase the overall scores of immigration candidates in the selection grid. The PSTQ makes knowledge of French a necessary condition for immigration.
For some sections of the program, the minimum knowledge requirement will be adjusted according to the level of qualifications required. Workers aiming for a management position, or one that generally requires post-secondary training, will be required to have level 7 (advanced intermediate) oral and level 5 written French, on a scale of 12. Other jobs will require a level 5 oral proficiency, at the beginning of the intermediate scale. The government has given itself a little leeway for “exceptional talent.” For this small part of the program, which targets special skills, no knowledge of French is required for the time being.
The PSTQ also creates a language requirement for the spouses of principal applicants for immigration to Quebec: a minimum oral proficiency level of 4, the final level for basic proficiency. The vast majority of applicants for permanent immigration will therefore need to have an intermediate knowledge of French.
A new program for temporary workers and students
At the same time, the Quebec Experience Program (QEP) has risen from the ashes. The QEP is a gateway to permanent residency for temporary immigrants, through two streams: Quebec graduates and temporary foreign workers. In 2020, the CAQ government controversially limited access to this highly popular program for international students with a degree from a Quebec institution and substantial work experience in the province.
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In the new version of the QEP, the employment requirement has been removed from the graduate component, but language has become central: only programs of study in French will be eligible. The program remains open to temporary workers, and becomes accessible to new professions previously excluded from the QEP, such as truck drivers and personal care workers. For both components (graduates and temporary workers), a level 7 or higher oral proficiency is required. Spouses, on the other hand, will still be required to have level 4 oral French, as has been the case since July 2021.
The 2023 version of the QEP is effectively limited to people with advanced knowledge of French who have interacted extensively with French-speaking institutions in their Quebec experience.
Business people and family reunification
A similar plan is in store for business people: programs dedicated to investors and self-employed workers will require level 7 oral French.
The new guidelines also affect sponsorship for family reunification. The CAQ government demanded Ottawa transfer powers to the province to make family reunification subject to language criteria. In the absence of these additional powers, the reform added a language component to the requirements of the guarantors – the sponsors – in addition to financial conditions. The government now wants guarantors to submit a reception and integration plan to Quebec’s Immigration ministry, in which they “undertake to support the learning of French by the sponsored persons.”
Towards a new era in Quebec immigration?
While these changes have yet to be applied, the message sent by the CAQ, as Quebec prepares to review immigration thresholds, is clear: you need to speak French to immigrate permanently to Quebec. But this change should be considered alongside an additional piece of information. Since 1991, the province has had immigration programs in place to ensure that a significant proportion of immigrants know and use French when they arrive. The proportion of immigrants declaring knowledge of French at the time of their admission in 2021 was close to 70 per cent.
The new plan intensifies Quebec’s historical approach and reinforce a preference in the selection process for francophones and people with links to francophone cultures and countries. They also create additional administrative requirements for prospective immigrants and those who support them.
These changes will have a marked impact on the origins of the immigrants Quebec will welcome, giving even greater advantages to French-speaking countries such as France, Belgium, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal and Benin. For those already settled in Quebec as part of a temporary immigration process for study or work – often from non-French-speaking countries such as China, India, the Philippines or Iran – the reform also sends the signal that access to permanent residency will only be possible through sustained French learning.
This new reality could not only change the face of permanent immigration, but also that of temporary immigration.