What would I do if I were Minister of Immigration? Above all, not deflate the annual threshold for permanent immigration to less than 35,000, as the PQ proposes. And reason with the federal government. Here’s why.
First, the observation. Currently, there are virtually no limits to the volume of temporary immigration that Quebec can receive. For one of the main programs, businesses only need to demonstrate that their needs are not met by the local labor market, essentially, and a 2-3 year license is granted to their applicants. No overall ceiling, therefore.
Last year, 167,000 non-permanent residents were added to Quebec, three times more than in 2022. Two-thirds of these non-permanent residents (112,000) are temporary workers with their families and the rest, asylum seekers.
These temporary workers accumulate from year to year, in step with the needs of companies. At the end of 2023, there were 367,000 in Quebec, according to Statistics Canada.
Very often, these workers have integrated into their community, started to learn French and found housing. They become indispensable to their companies, which trained them. Most dream of living here and obtaining citizenship by becoming permanent.
The problem is that only a handful can become permanent each year, depending on the thresholds established by the Quebec government. This annual threshold was set at 50,000 for each of the years 2024 and 2025, but by removing refugees and family reunions, among others, we fall to 32,000.
In short, it would take the equivalent of 10 years to “permanentize” the 367,000 temporary workers. And this volume of precarious temporary workers is constantly growing, like a faucet flowing freely in a sink whose drain hole is not growing.
And the PQ intends to shrink the hole by 40%! Imagine the dramas and excesses to come.
Currently, immigrant services, both government and community, are not providing.
You only have to take a look at the Google reviews of the Immigration Department’s website to be convinced.
Most of the 191 users who rated the site, with their name, complain about the poor quality of the Ministry’s service, the very long delays in obtaining authorizations and the inability to find French courses, among other things. The average is 2.1 stars out of 5, but it would probably be worse, since many say they would have liked to give 0, when the minimum is 1 star.
And at the same time, the housing rental market is overheating, with a historically low vacancy rate (1.5% in Montreal and 0.9% in Quebec) and sharply rising rents. And I’m not talking about childcare, education and health services.
What would I do if I were Minister of Immigration? First, I would find a way to curb temporary economic immigration. The timing is right, since the labor shortage has eased with the economic slowdown.
And the message, ultimately, would be clear: entrepreneurs, non-essential labor will become even less available, so invest in equipment to do without it, please, and increase your productivity.
Then, I would reason with the federal government to reduce the number of open permits it grants under the international mobility program (PMI). The issuance of these permits does not require a labor market impact assessment to be carried out, as is the case for permits issued by Quebec under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).
And we must of course resolve the issue of asylum seekers, 46% of whom arrive in Quebec. Quebec and Ottawa have put forward proposals to resolve the problem, that said.
Alongside this drop in temporary workers, I would boost the permanent immigrant target to 75,000 for 2-3 years, for example, before dropping back to 50,000.
The only condition: that the new permanent staff be drawn from temporary staff, for the most part (which is already the case anyway). Both of these actions would drain a good portion of the sink, reducing the flow of water from the faucet while widening the outlet hole.
In short, for a while, we must reduce temporary immigration, but increase permanent ones, otherwise there will ultimately be two classes of citizens in Quebec.
You will tell me that it is easier said than done, and you will be right. Especially since this brake on temporary workers will require skimming between the essentials and the others.
However, on this subject, the Minister of Immigration, Christine Fréchette, has undertaken an interesting reform, which should make it possible to better select permanent immigrants. The new Qualified Worker Selection Program (PSTQ) comes into effect next November.
The current selection grid, which favors academics without regard to market needs, will be eliminated, which should reduce the risks of overqualification. Think of the mathematician who is a taxi driver.
We will continue to choose exceptional talents or highly qualified or specialized immigrants, but a university degree will not necessarily be required (mechanical engineering technician, for example).
Above all, there is a component that will allow manual employees or those with intermediate skills to be selected if they have work experience in Quebec, whether we are thinking of cooks or drivers, among others.
With the PSTQ, a beneficiary attendant with experience in Quebec will therefore have more points to become permanent than a doctoral student in philosophy (assuming that both speak French).
Finally, immigrants in regulated professions will be able to speed up the processing of their file if they have obtained recognition, partial or complete, from the professional order in their sector in Quebec (nurses, engineers, etc.).
Immigration will never be an easy issue, especially since it is managed by two heads. We will see if the Fréchette reform will work, but one thing is certain: immigration needs to be better planned, and reception services better organized, based on a sustainable level.