‘Politically invisible’: Temporary immigration skyrockets in Quebec as official goals remain unchanged

While Quebec’s official immigration targets have remained largely stable over the past few years, the actual number of newcomers to the province has increased due to a growing reliance on temporary workers who often face more precarious conditions and long waits for permanent residency, a recent study found.

The publication by the Institute of Quebec found that while non-permanent residents made up 9% of international immigration to the province from 2012 to 2016, that number jumped to 64% by 2019.

Three experts who spoke to The Canadian Press said growing temporary immigration can help businesses meet their needs in a tightening labor market, but the province needs to do more to adapt to the new reality in order to better serve both newcomers and its own objectives. .

In 2021, the nonprofit research institute found that there were nearly 177,000 workers in Quebec classified as “temporary,” made up of international students with work permits, temporary foreign workers and skilled workers. . Over the past four years, permanent immigration levels have been capped at 40,000 to 50,000 per year.

Need workers

Mia Homsy, an economist and co-author of the institute’s report, said the increase in temporary immigration is largely due to a shortage of labor as well as a growing number of students strangers.

She said that historically, temporary immigrants have not been a big part of the Quebec immigration debate, likely because they make up such a small percentage of the total.

“Now that the trend has changed and the reality is completely different, it’s important to know what’s going on,” she said.

Homsy said the increase in temporary immigration is good for the province because it allows businesses to fill needed jobs, especially in Quebec regions. It can also be a good thing for workers, as it can help them gain work experience and put them on the path to permanent residency.

However, many of them have closed permits, which means they are tied to one employer, “so their working conditions may be more precarious”, she said.

Adele Garnier, a geography professor at Laval University and a specialist in migration, says temporary immigrants face obstacles that permanent immigrants do not. These can include lower wages, poorer working conditions and a lack of information about their rights as workers.

For years, she said, she and other organizations have worked to eliminate closed work permits, which can make it harder for workers to fight abuse and can ‘lead to exploitation’ .

For Homsy, the biggest problem is the long wait times faced by temporary immigrants seeking permanent residency. Currently, she says, the wait time is 31 months, even for those who have already received a Quebec selection certificate — which can also take years.

Language barrier

Carlo Garcia, a 38-year-old worker from the Philippines, says his experience with the Canadian immigration system has been relatively smooth so far. Garcia, who works in information technology on a skilled worker visa in Sherbrooke, Que., said he is slowly learning French and hopes to one day become a permanent resident.

Although he was happy with the company that hired him, he said he wished he could get an open permit so he could take on extra work from other clients and earn more money to bring his wife and her two young children in Canada.

He said he plans to eventually move to another province because learning French – his third language – is a big challenge. But his gratitude to his employer and the city pushes him to stay.

“With the way (the company) helped us get here, as well as we’ve already connected with the people here, there’s a good chance I’ll stay here,” he said. .

Government efforts

Homsy and Garnier say the Quebec government is reluctant to have an open discussion about temporary immigration.

Garnier said that while temporary immigration has the advantage of being “relatively invisible politically” to a Coalition Avenir Québec government that has campaigned to limit immigration, it means Quebec is ignoring the newcomers when calculating demand for services such as public services, transit, education and health.

She said the government must also recognize that temporary immigration is not going to end anytime soon. “What worries me is the policy of sticking your head in the sand and acting like this is temporary,” Garnier said.

Although Quebec has taken steps to make it easier for them to arrive — such as easing restrictions on the number of temporary foreign workers a company can accept — temporary workers are officially chosen by the federal government and are less likely to arrive. speaking French. Eventually, Quebec hopes to be transferred control of the temporary worker program “in order to exercise greater control over this program and better meet the needs of Quebec and its regions”, indicated the provincial ministry of Immigration in an email.

Garnier and Homsy say the province needs to do more to make sure workers who want to stay have early access to French classes and make sure their terms of employment allow them to attend.

They also recommend the province increase its immigration targets, which could reduce wait times for permanent residency and create more certainty for businesses and workers. Homsy said the increase could come from a special program to fast-track applications from regions of Quebec with labor shortages, which could accept a few thousand immigrants per year in addition to the cap of 50,000 people per year. year.

Quebec Immigration Minister Jean Boulet has rejected raising the 2022 immigration target beyond its current level of 50,000, which he says is the maximum the province can. properly integrate.

The e-mail from the Department of Immigration indicated that the thresholds for future years will be set at the time of the fall provincial election campaign.

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