Quebec looks to fix immigration delays

But employers could face more hurdles following ‘Tinder-like’ revamp
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/07/2019
Saint Patrick's Basilica
Saint Patrick’s Basilica opened in 1847 to serve the needs of Irish immigrants who came to Montreal due to the famine in Ireland. Quebec continues to grapple with immigration challenges. Credit: meunierd (Shutterstock)

Quebec employers may face additional hurdles if the province’s new government has its way on changes to immigration rules.

With the introduction of Bill 9, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) hopes to improve “the francization and integration of selected candidates” and better align the province’s labour needs with the profiles of selected candidates.

“The real problem with the immigration system is that it was not based (on) the needs of the work market, it was only ‘first apply, first treatment,’” said Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette. “Now we are changing that.”

“We are taking the profile of the candidate with the job that we need, so we make a match — it’s like a Tinder of immigration.”

As part of the change, the bill proposes terminating most of the files for which a decision has not yet been rendered under the Regular Skilled Worker Program — of which there are about 18,000.

The new system would involve a declaration of interest, with candidates who meet Quebec’s needs being invited to apply, while reducing processing times for applications for permanent selection from skilled workers, according to the CAQ.

The announcement follows a move in December to reduce the number of immigrants entering the province to 40,000 from 50,000.

Bill 9 also emphasizes the importance of integrating immigrants into Quebec and states they must successfully settle into their new home by learning the French language alongside democratic and Quebec values, as set out in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, said the government.

“We want to give the chance for anybody, from anywhere around the world, to come to Quebec,” said Jolin-Barrette, according to the CBC.

“But what we say is: ‘Come work in Quebec, but you will have to learn French and have the knowledge of Quebec values to be there forever.’”

Echoing the feds

The Quebec government wants to better align the needs of the labour market due to the vast amounts of employee shortages in some regions and professions in Quebec, said Nadine Landry, a partner at PwC Law in Montreal.

“They’ve come to the conclusion that the people that are currently being selected under the current legislation don’t have the skills to fill those jobs. So they want to make a switch to align basically what’s needed in the labour market with the candidates that most likely will be able to fill those positions.”

 “What we had in the past is they would open the pool for a specific number of applications and then (it was) first arrived, first served. And then they would also, outside of the quota, allow anybody... that’s here on a work permit valid for more than 12 months, or that has a validated job offer, to apply outside of the quota.”

With the new “Arrima” portal to submit applications, the government has the discretion to invite the people who meet the needs of the labour market, she said.

Under the proposed law, it’s all about the principle of expression of interest, where immigrants say they want to live in Quebec, and the government goes into a pool and invites people to apply based on criteria that could include language skills, for example, said Landry.

It’s similar to the federal Express Entry system, but at the national level, there’s a point grid so applicants know as soon as they submit their profile how many points they will be awarded, she said.

“In Quebec, it’s not a point system. You provide your information and then the government goes in and they can isolate one specific criteria, or they can cumulate a couple.”

“They have not publicly announced how they will do that; they just gave themselves the flexibility and they were clear to the fact that it was not going to be a point system like the federal one,” said Landry.

“They’re going to intake when they need it so they can process right away, instead of intaking on set dates or intaking because it’s provided for in the budget, or things like that. It would be more intake because of the needs and what (they) have the capacity to process at this time.”

Federally, the government introduced an expression-of-interest system where it holds a draw every two weeks and selects from a pool of interested candidates, said Colin Singer, immigration lawyer and managing partner at Immigration.ca in Montreal.

“Now they can control the exact number of people who are going to be in the system for permanent residence,” he said.

“The processing times are six to 12 months, so now they have a very efficient system and there’s no false promises and no hopes for people to be in a system thinking they’ll be processed when in fact it was first in, never processed.”

Cancelling the existing applications is certainly not fair, but from a management point of view, Quebec is following through with a solution that no previous government has tried, though it’s been introduced successfully on the federal side, said Singer.

“Quebec has had a real problem with the management of filing inventory,” he said. “They also continue, until very recently, first in-first out, and what Quebec has experienced is identical to what the federal authorities experienced — Quebec has this growing backlog, which currently sits at more than 50,000
individuals.”

In addition, Quebec lacks the proper infrastructure investment and trained personnel to give effect to these programs designed to bring people in quickly, said Singer.

“Quebec has one of lowest unemployment rates in the country,” he said. “Each month we’re seeing, in some parts of Quebec, the unemployment rates are at historical lows, all-time lows, so this is a problem if you’re an employer — you’re not seeing the fast treatment of skilled workers that employers need urgently.”

The lack of manpower in Quebec is a huge issue, said Thomas Dorval, CEO of the Conseil du Patronat du Québec in
Montreal.

“We have a need for 1.5 million workers for the next 10 years in Quebec, and we know that only 56 per cent of that new manpower will come from the students that are right now at the universities,” he said.

“We need people coming from foreign countries that are able to take a job rapidly because they have already the skills or the competencies and so forth to meet the need from the labour market.”

Part of the issue is many immigrants don’t want to move to sub-regions that need workers, said Dorval. Language is also a major issue.

“We need also to bring aboard people that will be able to speak right now or to speak later in learning French, in order to stay here and integrate into the community,” he said.

“All of that together means that we need to have some improvement, some change in the way we process all the immigration levels, including temporary workers and including refugees and including the selected people based on their grades and so forth.”

However, the Quebec government already made changes to the point system when it came to French language skills, as seen in 2012 when applicants lost points — which resulted in lawsuits, said David Chalk, barrister and solicitor at Chalk Immigration in Montreal.

(In late February, the Ontario Superior Court issued a temporary injunction ordering the CAQ to resume processing the more than 18,000 applications after a group of immigration lawyers said the move to cancel them was illegal.)

And the government awards a certain amount of points for specific types of training, determined by the government’s perception of the demand for people with that skill set, “so they already fine-tune their system on an annual basis to take into account labour market connections; they’re already trying to match the point system with the demands of the labour force,” he said.

“So for them to say to these people ‘If we give them selection certificates, they are not going to be well-suited to the labour market’ makes no sense — they rejig their system to take into consideration labour market demands on an annual basis already.”

Impact on employers

The potential changes are already affecting employers, said Landry, because if they have employees in the province on a temporary work permit who want to pass the permanent residency, their files are going to be cancelled and they have to start over.

“It really affects those that are trying to recruit long-term, meaning when you try to convince the candidates to take a position up in Quebec, some of the people will say, ‘Well, do I have a future there after my work permit of two years or three years… is there a path to permanent residency?’” she said.

The uncertainty is really the main issue for employers, according to Landry.

“Before this new law, we would be able to say, ‘Well, you have so many points on the grid and because you will have a valid work permit, you’ll be able to submit your application.’”

“That’s no longer going to be the truth.”

Cancelling the backlog of more than 18,000 applicants is certainly neither fair nor ethical, said Singer.

“They’re now facing an outcry and a backlash from people who advocate for immigration that this is just unfair.”

However, it’s not likely the CAQ government is concerned about its brand because there’s no shortage of people willing to move there, he said.

“But the Quebec government is not only dealing with individuals who are coming to the province — there’s a need to serve employers, that’s a strong mandate, and in order to recruit and retain, you need to be able to (get) people here quickly. So I think the way they’re currently heading, yes, I think they’re harming Canadian employers in Quebec.”

Quebec employers and businesses are “extremely prejudiced in this process,” said Chalk, because, within the province, it takes six months for an applicant to get a selection certificate. People then have to apply for permanent residence through the federal government, which takes about 18 months, so it adds up to a two-year process.

And that’s only going to get worse because there are already a lot of people who have the certificate in Quebec, but the province wants the feds to put through fewer applicants, he said.

“That inevitably is going to back up the system more than it’s already backed up… So if I’m trying to sell this province as a destination for a foreign worker, I’m going to have to tell him ‘You’re going to become (a permanent resident) in Canada, if that’s ultimately your objective, at best, 18 months later.’ That’s the current system.”

Another challenge for employers is language barriers. Many employers recruit from engineering faculties that only teach English, and many international PhD students don’t speak French, said Chalk.

Employers don’t know how they’re going to keep those people in Quebec, and are “even thinking about opening branch offices outside of (Quebec) so that they can hold onto their most important employees,” he said.

“It’s going to be certainly something that will give people pause before they commit to working in this province or setting up a business here,” said Chalk.

“Because unless all the international workers they’re planning to bring are francophones, that’s an issue they wouldn’t have to deal with somewhere else in Canada.”

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