Although federal-provincial accords on immigration have proliferated, Quebec was the first Canadian province to set its own immigration policy and is the only one with a non-economic basis for that policy. Yet these advantages do not seem to have served the province well, given that some policy choices appear to have reduced its attractiveness as a destination for migrants.

Immigrant Criteria
The Quebec and Canadian governments share jurisdiction with respect to immigration, but the Quebec government sets its own requirements:

-Selection. Quebec selects immigrants who it deems will adapt well to living in the province.

-Language matters. Crucially, the foundation of Quebec’s immigration regime is language: Quebec wishes to select immigrants who speak French.

-Relative Performance
Over the past decade, approximately 400,000 immigrants have arrived in Quebec. The annual rate has almost doubled during this time and the nature of those immigrating has also changed. Until the 1980s, most immigrants came from Europe, whereas now approximately 40% come from North Africa, particularly Algeria and Morocco.

However, the province’s total represents just 18% of all immigrants to Canada (225,000 immigrants arrive in Canada each year). By contrast, Ontario attracts 52% of all immigrants to Canada, with the majority settling in Toronto.

-Retention Problems
Canada, like the United States, does not require people to officially report changes of address, so it is difficult to measure precisely how many migrants leave Quebec. But distinguished Quebec demographer Jacques Henrinpin has estimated that the province loses 28% of its immigrants within five years, 40% over 10 years and approximately 50% over 20 years.

Quebec also chronically loses non-immigrant residents to other provinces via internal migration. Since 1966, Quebec has lost approximately 30,000 residents annually to English-speaking provinces and welcomed only 16,000 to 17,000 Canadian migrants.

Quebec’s relative attractiveness. Several factors make Quebec less attractive to immigrants than other provinces (particularly Ontario and British Columbia) for immigrants:

-French language schooling. Unless they were educated in English in another province, new immigrants may not send their children to English-speaking state schools. (The relevant law has been struck down by the courts, but the Quebec government has two years to respond.)

-Anti-immigrant rhetoric. Relative to other provinces, political and media commentators are often highly critical of immigrants.

-French returnees. Surprisingly, Quebec also appears to have trouble retaining immigrants from France. According to Quebec’s Ministry of Immigration, every year 3,000 to 4,000 French nationals settle permanently in the province, 7,000 enter on temporary visas and over 5,000 arrive as students. However, there is strong evidence that a substantial number of these migrants leave the province within a relatively brief period of time.

-Credential Recognition
In the public debate on how to improve Quebec’s attractiveness to immigrants, it is often observed that migrants have trouble securing recognition of professional credentials earned overseas. However, this is a chronic problem in all Canadian provinces, so it does not explain relatively low net migration to, or out-migration from, Quebec.

-Key Policy Challenges
Quebec is unlikely ever to overtake Ontario or Western Canada as a favored destination for immigrants. Economic payoffs associated with proficiency in English are higher than French.

However, public policy has not systematically sought to compensate for this drawback by improving the attractiveness of the province in other areas, such as easing restrictions on English school enrolment for new immigrants. Most problematic, Quebec is relatively unattractive to business investors–particularly entrepreneurs, the category of migrants that generate the most wealth for the recipient society. Remedial policy responses are apposite in this latter area.

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