Quebec’s recent immigration reform bill gives the province more control over immigration through the power to set conditions and demand undertakings from temporary and permanent immigrants, to align their settlement with gaps in the labour market and ensure their integration.
Tabled in February by Coalition Avenir Quebec member Simon Jolin-Barrette, Bill 9, An Act to Increase Québec’s Socio-Economic Prosperity and Adequately Meet Labour Market Needs Through Successful Immigrant Integration, became law Sunday.
“Essentially, the aim of Bill 9 is really to highlight integration of immigrants, francization, Quebec values, and we're looking to better respond to Quebec’s labor market needs,” says Katya Fiorello, an associate and member of the labour law group at Lavery de Billy LLP in Montreal.
According to Quebec’s ministry of immigration, diversity and inclusion in the new act is the “cornerstone” of the CAQ government’s immigration agenda.
The act gives the minister the power to require immigrants to agree to an undertaking if the minister deems it “necessary to the success of the foreign national’s stay in Quebec.” The act gives the minister the power to collect information from immigrants about their grasp of French and integration into the labour market. The act also amends the Quebec Immigration Act to “clarify its objects” specifically to promote immigrant integration through knowledge of French and “learning about democratic values and the Québec values expressed by the Charter of human rights and freedoms.” The act also grants the government regulatory authority to set conditions on permanent residents.
“There's very, very concerning elements in this bill,” says Guillaume Cliche-Rivard, president of the Quebec Immigration Lawyers Association.
“We don't know what that values test might be. And we don't know what conditions the government is going to try to impose on permanent residents. And we don't know as well if the federal government will even allow it,” he says. “But the aim and the will and the push that they're trying on this is concerning.”
To protect its distinctive French culture within Canada, Quebec and the government of Canada agreed, in 1991, to the Canada–Québec Accord relating to Immigration and Temporary Admission of Aliens, which gives Quebec the ability to set its own immigration requirements. The agreement means that for those applying to reside in Quebec under the Federal Skilled Worker Program, they first need to apply for and receive a Certificat de sélection du Québec. Once the applicant is granted their CSQ, they use it to apply under the federal program.
Under the CAQ’s Liberal predecessors, the Quebec government changed the process for applying for a CSQ, instituting a new platform called Arrima, which matches a candidate’s job skills with available positions in the province. Applicants file an expression of interest with Arrima and are invited if they fit the province’s needs. Arrima replaced the first-come-first-served system that preceded it, says Fiorello.
She says a “multitude” of industries is currently experiencing labour shortages, especially the construction and food-service industries, with some restaurants cutting back on their hours of operation. Small and medium-sized businesses — especially outside of Montreal and Quebec City — are also lacking workers, says Fiorello.
The act also closed thousands of immigration applications still in the system because the government stopped processing claims when the legislation was tabled in February. The original aim was to close 18,000 files, says Cliche-Rivard. The Quebec Immigration Lawyers Association filed an injunction in the Superior Court against the decision to stop processing the claims, he says. The court forced Quebec to continue processing the outstanding claims until the bill became law, saving around 3,000 files.
Cliche-Rivard, who practises at Nguyen Tutunjian & Cliche-Rivard – Lawyers, SENC in Montreal, says the Quebec Immigration Lawyers Association and others were also able to force the government to process claims by those who were in Quebec when they filed — which was around 3,700 people — bringing the total claims eliminated down to around 12,000.
“It's still too much, but better than nothing,” he says.