MONTREAL - Quebec universities say they're having trouble recruiting foreign professors due to a French language requirement they say hinder their ability to attract high-skilled, international talent.
Several professors and recruiters at the province's two major English-language universities said that Quebec's complex, points-based immigration system puts them at a disadvantage compared to other Canadian and U.S. institutions.
In 2013, the Parti Quebecois government of the day increased the French requirement needed for immigrants applying for permanent residency, which officials at Concordia and McGill said created recruiting headaches.
Quebec's Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil said in an interview the government made the immigration system more flexible in December, but universities say it is still too complicated.
Ghyslaine McClure, associate provost at McGill, said her university has difficulty hiring distinguished professors for research chairs.
Candidates who are in the 40s and 50s don't necessarily want to take several French classes a week in addition to research duties.
"That's where it hurts us," McClure said.
Moreover, she said there is too much paperwork and hoops that applicants need to jump through in order to move to Quebec.
"We would like a special recognition that university professors are highly specialized workers and they should not have that many obstacles," McClure added. "Professors and other eminent specialists are a different ball game."
The Liberal government quietly instituted changes in December, giving more "points" to immigrants with PhDs, allowing some applicants to bypass the French requirement and get residency.
Permanent residency is important for professors and at some institutions like Concordia, they cannot receive full tenure without it.
Stanton Paddock, a journalism professor at Concordia University, hopes to benefit from the new rules.
Paddock said he "went into a total panic" after moving from the U.S. in 2013 and discovering the amount of French he was going to have to learn. Now, his PhD might allow him to skip the French language requirement altogether.
The new rules allow him to meet with an immigration officer who will determine if Paddock is adaptable enough to live in Quebec.
"The points system is very complex and tedious," Paddock said.
Others, like Emer O'Toole, a professor at Concordia's School of Canadian Irish Studies, isn't phased by the language requirements.
O'Toole, who is from Ireland, has a background in French, having studied the language before coming to Quebec.
"Learning French was part of the reason I was excited to move here," she said. "I enjoy the language (but) I can for imagine people who don't have that background it would be onerous."
She said she appreciates that Quebec wants to protect its language and culture.
"It's very likely (without the protections) French would lose its hold and stop being the primary language in Montreal," she said.
Weil is listening to recommendations aimed at reforming the province's immigration system, where the government is trying to balance the desire to assimilate immigrants into a French workforce while attracting foreign talent critical to diversifying the economy.
Weil said employer groups have said the high level of French required for immigrants are hurting business.
"Employer groups have raised the issue about language requirements, should we relax them or not," she said. "The overall opinion (of the government) is that we need to be very careful and it's important to have people speak French."