The time has come for Quebec to re-examine its immigration model, and the way the province chooses, welcomes and integrates foreigners into the job market, said Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil ahead of year-long public consultations on the issue set to begin Wednesday at the Quebec legislature.
Weil told The Canadian Press she was ready to launch a "big reform" of relations between new immigrants and Quebec society at-large by the end of the year, a process that will include the revision of Quebec's immigration law.
Everything will be on the table: the number of immigrants welcomed annually, the selection process and favoured countries of origin, the importance of knowing French before arriving, French language courses, the recognition of training undertaken abroad, regionalization, and the sharing of common values.
The minister said she wanted a wide-reaching debate on the issues, and was "very open to everything that will be proposed."
Fifty stakeholders are expected to participate in public consultation hearings over the next few weeks on the future of immigration to Quebec. The province's current policy has been in place for 25 years.
A later consultation will also be held on two specific aspects of immigration: the number of immigrants Quebec wants to welcome every year and their countries of origin.
The emphasis, however, will be placed on the economy and balancing between the recruitment of new immigrants and workforce needs. Finding candidates that can fill empty jobs will be key, and on that point, Quebec is being inspired by Ottawa.
Last year, the federal government reformed its selection process for new immigrants. With the focus now primarily on filling jobs, every candidate for immigration to Canada must produce a "declaration of interest" showcasing his or her ability to meet employers' needs.
Weil said she wanted to appropriate that model. "[What] I want to arrive at, is an immigration system based on the Canadian model," she said.
In 2013, unemployment among new immigrants to Quebec sat at 11.6 per cent, four percentage points higher than the general population. This was despite the fact that the majority of new immigrants were well educated: 57 per cent completed at least 14 years of schooling.
Employers in each sector across the province will be invited to better define their workforce needs and provide a profile of the ideal worker to bring to Quebec. Professional associations, meanwhile, will be asked to better consider candidates holding diplomas earned abroad.
This is even more important at a time when the search for qualified immigrants is "much more competitive" than in the past, Weil said.
Every year, between 50,000 and 55,000 foreigners move to Quebec, the majority of whom are from Africa. From 2009-2013, one immigrant in five came from Algeria or Morocco.
After the public consultations, Weil will produce a new immigration policy and an action plan. She said she would present a bill in the fall to "modernize" the current law, which she described as "really outdated."
The new bill will be "the last piece of this large reform," and an "absolutely fundamental" piece of the puzzle, she added.
Among the provincial government's challenges will be to specify the importance of immigrants' knowledge of French prior to their arrival in Quebec and French-language courses.
Upon their arrival, nearly half of all immigrants (43 per cent) do not speak a word of French.
"What can we do to go even further?," Weil asked, to make French "the cement" and Quebec's common language. She added that new immigrants must have an "adequate level of French" to find jobs and successfully integrate.
Drawing new immigrants to towns across the province will also be a priority, as three out of four currently settle in the greater Montreal area. Local mayors must play "an increased role" to address this issue, Weil said.
Ultimately, immigration reform needs "the full participation of each and every member of Quebec society," the minister said.
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