MONTREAL — A Quebec think tank says the province's plan to cut immigration levels is misguided and will not accomplish its intended goal of better integrating newcomers.
The Institut de recherche et d'informations socio-economiques published a study Wednesday concluding from publicly available data that immigrants are faring better in Quebec than the government claims.
Researcher Julia Posca said the employment rate among immigrants in Quebec has risen steadily to 79 per cent last year from about 70 per cent in 2009. She said almost 60 per cent of immigrants who arrive in Quebec are fluent in French or are bilingual.
"Based on those facts, you can say the integration of immigrants is going well, and there is no empirical evidence that tells us that if we lower the levels of immigrants that integration will be better," Posca said in an interview.
Given the data, the proposed law is built on perceptions and prejudices about immigrants, Posca said: "The new policy of the government seems to be misguided."
The institute said it is in favour of maintaining the province's annual immigration level at 50,000, basing its argument on demographic and economic factors, given the province's aging population and a shortage of workers.
The government plans to reduce immigration to about 40,000 people this year, with Premier Francois Legault telling reporters Wednesday in Quebec City the changes are necessary to respond to the needs of the workforce and to ensure new arrivals are comfortable functioning in French.
Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette tabled Bill 9 in February, proposing to overhaul the system for selecting newcomers to the province. The government says the legislation is aimed at better matching applicants to the needs of the labour market and ensuring immigrants speak French and respect Quebec values.
But it has been widely criticized since it was introduced. A recent court ruling forced the government to resume processing outstanding immigration applications that it had scrapped.
A spokesman for Jolin-Barrette said in a statement Wednesday the Coalition Avenir Quebec government was elected last October with a mandate to reform the immigration system. He said the employment rate for newcomers remains a problem.
While the 79 per cent employment rate for immigrants still lags behind that of Quebecers born in Canada — 87 per cent —Posca said part of the difference is attributable to how the province recognizes newcomers' work and education experience, as well as discrimination.
"These are real issues that immigrants face and that impedes their full integration and the bill doesn't propose anything to counter those problems," she said.