Québec se pense à l’abri de poursuites d’aspirants immigrants

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Le ministre de l’Immigration Simon Jolin-Barrette pense que le gouvernement est à l’abri d’éventuelles poursuites découlant de l’annulation projetée des 18 000 dossiers en attente à son ministère.

Le ministre est confiant pour deux raisons : la victoire en cour d’Ottawa dans une cause similaire et un article prévu spécifiquement pour cela dans le projet de loi 9.

« En 2012, le gouvernement conservateur a fait exactement la même chose que nous faisons et il y a une décision de la Cour fédérale qui s’est rendue aux arguments du fédéral », a signalé M. Jolin-Barrette en entrevue au Devoir lundi.

À l’époque, le gouvernement Harper avait été traîné devant les tribunaux après avoir annoncé l’élimination de 280 000 dossiers en attente. Un groupe d’avocats avait porté la cause devant la Cour fédérale au nom de 1500 aspirants immigrants, mais la Cour avait estimé essentiellement que le gouvernement avait le pouvoir de faire une telle chose.

À Québec, le ministre Jolin-Barrette a aussi inclus une protection dans le projet de loi 9. L’article 20 édicte « qu’aucuns dommages-intérêts ni aucune indemnité [relativement à] une telle demande ne peuvent être réclamés au gouvernement ».

Je ne peux pas obliger quelqu’un à rester au Saguenay–Lac-Saint- Jean, par exemple. Mais je peux le sélectionner plus rapidement s’il a une offre d’emploi en région.

Rappelons que le ministre caquiste a dévoilé jeudi sa première pièce législative en immigration, qui prévoit notamment l’annulation des 18 139 dossiers en attente au ministère. Le gouvernement souhaite ainsi mettre un terme à la règle du « premier arrivé, premier servi » et recruter plus rapidement des immigrants en fonction des besoins du marché du travail alors qu’une importante pénurie de main-d’oeuvre sévit dans plusieurs secteurs.

De ces 18 139 dossiers, 3700 ont été déposés par des gens qui étaient déjà au Québec, a confirmé le cabinet du ministre mardi. Ces derniers sont particulièrement mécontents qu’on jette leur dossier à la poubelle et ils seraient nombreux à envisager des recours, selon des avocats consultés par Le Devoir.

Mardi, le ministre Jolin-Barrette a multiplié les entrevues pour calmer le jeu. Les travailleurs temporaires qui sont au Québec peuvent toujours renouveler leur permis de travail auprès du gouvernement fédéral, a-t-il expliqué. Pour ceux parmi les 3700 qui « travaillent au Québec depuis plus de douze mois et parlent français », il y a une « voie rapide », le programme Expérience québécoise, a-t-il souligné. « Certains se sont peut-être inscrits dans le mauvais programme », laisse-t-il entendre.

Quant aux travailleurs temporaires qui avaient déposé une demande d’immigration au Québec, ils sont invités à présenter une nouvelle demande — gratuite — dans le nouveau système de déclaration d’intérêt, et ce, même si le projet de loi n’a pas encore été adopté. Car il faudra en effet attendre plusieurs mois avant que le projet de loi soit étudié, débattu et adopté par le Parlement, exercice au cours duquel il pourrait faire l’objet d’importantes modifications.

En attendant le test de valeurs

Reste aussi à savoir dans quelles circonstances le gouvernement souhaite retirer la résidence permanente (RP) à des immigrants qui ne respectent pas ses exigences. On sait par exemple que le gouvernement de la Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) veut obtenir du fédéral le pouvoir de la retirer aux immigrants qui ne seraient pas parvenus à maîtriser le français ou auraient échoué à leur test de valeurs.

« Je pourrais imposer des conditions en fonction de l’évaluation des connaissances au test des valeurs québécoises, au niveau de la connaissance du français », a mentionné M. Jolin-Barrette mardi.

Le ministre n’est toutefois pas en mesure de dire quand ou jusqu’à combien de temps après avoir été reçus, les immigrants pourraient perdre leur résidence permanente. « C’est à déterminer », a-t-il dit.

Par contre, le gouvernement ne pourrait pas retirer la résidence permanente à un immigrant simplement parce qu’il a quitté la région du travail pour lequel il avait été sélectionné au départ, indique le ministre, qui souhaite toutefois favoriser la régionalisation en amont. « Je ne peux pas obliger quelqu’un à rester au Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, par exemple. Mais je peux le sélectionner plus rapidement s’il a une offre d’emploi en région. »

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Chef Tunde Wey’s New Dinner Series Seeks to Wed Immigrants with American Citizens

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Chef Tunde Wey wants his diners to fall in love. On February 8 and 9 in Pittsburgh, just before Valentine’s Day, he’ll be setting the mood with low lights, soft music, a spicy broth with big chunks of yam, and a dating profile for each of his 16 guests: age, education, gender identity, gender preference, dealbreakers, whether you can prove you are a U.S. citizen—and if you’re interested in marrying an immigrant. Oh, and there’s a prize. Anyone who opposes the United States’ current immigration policy is encouraged to donate funds toward the initiative, which will then be gifted to the first couple to wed within 90 days of the dinner.

Is this a gimmick? Is it even legal? Wey, a food activist, chef, and Nigerian immigrant who spent 10 years living undocumented in the United States, is not too concerned. His purpose with the initiative, entitled Marriage Trumps All, is to start a conversation about the nature of citizen rights in America and the nearly 11 million undocumented people living, working, and paying taxes in this country without them—and then do something about it.

Why this dinner now?

Well, my marriage is a transnational marriage. My wife and I had to go through this process—we just came out of this three weeks ago [on January 7]. We got married, and after four years, I was officially validated by the U.S. government and immigration services. So this project is very personal in that it has been my experience to think about how we use these institutions to advocate for the sort of society we want.

I did a dinner on immigration in the spring of 2017, around that time when Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was being threatened by the current president, to talk about what we had to do individually to create the sort of country we wanted to see. Everybody agreed on the issue: “Yes, immigration as currently practiced in the United States is discriminatory and prejudiced.” But the missing piece was, well, what do we do? So I looked at my life. I looked at how immigration had affected my life, and how marriage had affected my life. I came to the conclusion that that’s what folks could do: You could fall in love with somebody who was different from you as a way to enshrine true difference as a principle in this country.

Political change via blind date?

Marriage as a tool of social transformation is important. There’s a legacy of that in America—the Loving ruling [1967], which legally recognized interracial marriages, and the challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [overturned in 2013], which paved the way for same sex marriage. I think there’s opportunity to extend that legacy through a project like this.

tunde wey 2

Photo by Akasha Rabut

Wey in his home in New Orleans.

Would you call yourself a romantic?

[Laughs] I don’t know.

I generally like to keep things sexy [with my dinners]—the aesthetic, low lights, nice music, that kind of stuff. Everything else is going to be up to the diners. The extent that love matches will happen will be up to the individuals who are open to falling in love with somebody they met at a dinner on a f*#%ing Friday night in Pittsburgh.

So you’re hoping other people can benefit from the system. What are the chances, you think, that people will actually fall in love?

I feel like at least one couple will find love. It’s very possible.

Before becoming a permanent resident, you were living and working in the States undocumented. How did that experience influence this project?

This whole project is basically a reflection of my experience being undocumented, my experience striving for documentation, my experience going through the immigration system. I needed to [wait]; I needed my immigration journey to be over. Now I have more emotional bandwidth to talk about immigration without being worried about the repercussions.

Being undocumented is not sexy. There are a variety of indignations, small and large. There is a persistent fear that you live with of being deported, fear of being harassed, fear of being dislocated. There are material consequences in that your physical person can be detained at any time. You’re not legally entitled to representation. These are physical fears, but there’s also the psychological effect of living that way. You can’t work. You can’t open up. Your whole life can be taken from you.

There’s a competition element to the dinners. The first couple to get married takes home, I don’t want to say a cash prize because it just really sounds like The Bachelor, but that is kind of what it is.

Cash gifts are a huge part of marriages. You’re starting a new life and you need a certain financial cushion. If you are a transnational couple, you are doubly challenged: the immigration process costs money.

Part of this is to encourage everybody to participate—if you don’t want to get married or are already in a relationship, then you can contribute $10 or a thousand dollars, whatever you feel like. Everybody has an opportunity to create a society that rejects and rebuts this current regime of fear and othering.

Is that possibly…fraudulent?

No, there’s nothing fraudulent about this. The dinner series is explicitly for people who are single and want to get married. If this is fraudulent, then so is The Bachelor, so is 90 Day Fiancé, so is Tinder, so is everything else. The routes to relationship-making and love connections have changed. The internet and mass media are dictating how these connections are made. The intent is for people who want to fall in love to do so. The immigration benefits would be incidental.

tunde wey 3

Photo by Akasha Rabut

What’s the hardest part for you in getting people to confront these issues?

I recognize that these systems are intractable. I can see it playing out in the room. I can see it playing out with white people, with folks who have class privilege, with men. Any sort of system of power that is intent on maintaining its power is not going to give up that power, right? I know that, yet I’m still doing the work that I’m doing.

This dinner series is about finding a way to create parity between immigrants and U.S. citizens. It’s never going to happen. Being a United States citizen literally has more cache than being a Nigerian citizen. I hate it because I’m Nigerian, and I want my life to be just as valuable as everybody else’s lives. I want everybody’s lives to be equally valuable, but that’s not what it is, as we can see. But the purpose of my dinner is to create circumstances where this is true.

How does the food fit in?

I think it’d be strange if there weren’t food—something to eat, something to drink. It’s a social lubricant in the room and in the space. I am interested in pointing out [our] complicity, which we tend to acknowledge, but there seems to be very little that we do in terms of actually subverting the systems that we complain about. This dinner is about wielding our cultural and social institutions in a different way.

What will you be cooking?

Akara, which is a bean and bell pepper fritter, battered and deep-fried in oil. I’ll probably make a date chutney as a dipping sauce. A soup with plantains and African yams called Epuru. It’s a spicy broth that has all sorts of aromatic and pungent spices in it. Ekpang nkukwo, basically grated yams wrapped in a cocoyam leaves stewed in palm oil and other spices, is [typically] served with seafood. I’ll substitute with mushroom (enoki and trumpet) for texture. They’re all aphrodisiacs [in Nigerian cuisine].

I cook Nigerian food because it’s the food that I grew up on and the food that I’m most familiar with. I am hoping that if I serve Nigerian food, I can dislocate people’s idea of food by giving them something different, something that didn’t require too much pondering. I’m trying to use my food to reeducate Americans about how food should be.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

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Hussen unveils plan to attract, retain skilled immigrants in rural and remote regions

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The Liberal government is launching a new pilot program aimed at attracting and retaining skilled immigrants in Canada’s rural and northern communities that are grappling with labour gaps due to a youth exodus and aging populations.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is making the announcement today in Sudbury, Ont., as a way to support economic development in small and remote communities that face labour market shortages. CBCNews.ca is carrying the 10 a.m. ET announcement live.

The majority of newcomers settle in big cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver under existing federal economic immigration programs.

The pilot is styled after a similar program in Atlantic Canada that launched in 2017, and was deemed successful in helping to fill labour gaps across the region.

Under that initiative, the four Atlantic provinces nominated about 2,500 workers in 2018 to fill labour market needs, according to a news release from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC.) The concept aims to grow local populations by building community ties with the newcomers through employment, education and social programs so they remain in the area instead of moving on to a bigger city.

Hussen hinted at the possibility of expanding the immigration pilot to northern and remote communities last summer, after hearing from employers about the acute need for labour and skills during a roundtable discussion in Sudbury.

Community applications open

At the time, Hussen said the federal government was working to reduce wait times for immigration and visa applications and boost funding for settlement services, but was considering other measures to attract and retain skilled workers in rural and remote regions.

Hussen announced that as of today, IRCC will seek applications from interested communities in Ontario, Western Canada and the territories to take part in the pilot. Quebec oversees its own economic immigration program.

Communities have until March 1 to apply, and those selected can begin picking candidates for permanent residence this summer.

« Immigration is a central pillar of Canada’s economic success, »  Hussen said in a statement. « The economic and social benefits of immigration are apparent in communities across Canada. By creating an immigration pilot aimed at rural, remote and northern communities, we’re looking to ensure that the benefits of immigration are shared across the country. »

A recently released study found immigration rates were lowest in the country on Prince Edward Island, where fewer than one in five immigrants remained on the Island after five years. 

The study from the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council used tax records to track whether immigrants remain in the province, and used 2016 records as the most recent ones available.

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Le dilemme du bilinguisme et de la francisation des immigrants

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Les éditorialistes et chroniqueurs du Devoir reviennent souvent sur la bilinguisation du Québec, obstacle à la francisation des immigrants (exemples : Robert Dutrisac, « La bilinguisation du Québec », Le Devoir, 6 janvier 2019 ; Michel David, « Un trop faible message », 6 décembre 2018). Ils n’ont pas totalement tort. Toutefois, l’analyse proposée des racines du problème demeure, permettez-moi de le dire avec tout le respect que je leur dois, simpliste.

Parmi les coupables nommés, l’on trouve d’abord le laxisme de l’État québécois en matière de bilinguisme institutionnel et de prestation (bilingue) de services. Michel David et Robert Dutrisac citent, à titre d’exemple, les quelque 400 000 abonnés d’Hydro-Québec qui reçoivent leur compte en anglais. Le message est clair : ceci n’est pas acceptable dans un État dont la langue officielle est le français. Et cela envoie le mauvais message aux immigrants : il est possible de vivre à Montréal sans parler français ; tous les services publics sont offerts en anglais. L’autre coupable serait notre appartenance au Canada. Ici, je ne peux mieux faire que citer Michel David : « Il est clair que l’appartenance à une fédération dont le gouvernement met tout son poids dans la promotion du bilinguisme et du multiculturalisme sera toujours un obstacle à l’épanouissement d’une société française » (Le Devoir, 20 décembre 2018).

Mais cogner sur l’État québécois qui ose donner des services en anglais et sur le Canada bilingue et multiculturel est trop facile. Cela nous évite de regarder ce qu’on préfère ne pas voir : la présence d’une population anglophone avec des droits. Le droit de cité de l’anglais au Québec est une question de démographie et de droits. Sans minorité anglophone, le problème de la francisation des nouveaux venus ne se poserait pas. L’argumentaire du Québec laxiste et du Canada anglicisant ne marche plus dès que nous nous transportons à quelques kilomètres à l’est de Montréal, disons à Drummondville ou à Québec. Je ne pense pas qu’il y ait beaucoup de résidents (récemment arrivés ou non) qui y demandent des services publics en anglais ; je ne pense pas que beaucoup d’immigrants arrivés à Drummondville finissent par s’angliciser. Eux et (surtout) leurs enfants vont se franciser. Le bilinguisme officiel du Canada fédéral n’y fait pas obstacle, pas plus que le bilinguisme de facto de l’État québécois.

Le cas de Montréal

La situation est tout autre dans la grande région de Montréal. La population anglophone, la pluralité et même la majorité dans certains quartiers, a non seulement le droit demander des services publics en anglais, mais leur présence (entre autres, comme consommateurs) fait que l’anglais s’utilise régulièrement dans la vie quotidienne, langue qu’ils ont pleinement le droit d’utiliser en public.

Le petit commerçant coréen, iranien ou autre sait, s’il veut rester en affaires, qu’il doit pouvoir servir sa clientèle dans les deux langues. La présence anglophone s’exprime aussi dans des établissements anglophones : écoles, hôpitaux, cégeps, universités… où l’anglais sera le plus souvent la principale langue de travail. Bref, veut, veut pas, l’immigrant débarqué à Montréal arrive dans un environnement où — il le voit très bien — l’anglais s’emploie quotidiennement et où la connaissance de la langue de Shakespeare est souvent une condition d’emploi ; même si le français est la langue dominante.

Revenons alors aux abonnés d’Hydro-Québec — ou à tout autre service public — dont les factures sont rédigées en anglais. Le dénoncer est facile. Mais sur le plan pratico-pratique, comment voulez-vous qu’un fonctionnaire refuse de donner des services en anglais à la personne x ou y qui le demande : sous quel prétexte, selon quel critère ? Comment le pauvre fonctionnaire doit-il faire la différence entre un « vrai » anglophone de chez nous, avec ses droits, et un immigrant ? Nous entrons ici dans le théâtre de l’absurde.

Tout immigrant reçu (résident permanent), même s’il est arrivé hier, a les mêmes droits qu’un citoyen (sauf le droit de vote). Un Québec souverain, pas moins qu’aujourd’hui, aura l’obligation de respecter les droits de la minorité anglophone, et donc de continuer à offrir des services en anglais sur demande. Le dilemme restera le même : réconcilier francisation et respect de la minorité anglophone. Personne ne parle d’expulser notre minorité anglophone ou d’envoyer McGill en Ontario (heureusement). Le bilinguisme de facto de la région montréalaise est une réalité et le restera, sans même évoquer la puissante force anglicisante de la mondialisation qui frappe toutes les grandes métropoles internationales, Francfort, Amsterdam, Paris, comme Montréal.

Un miracle

Que le Québec réussisse tout de même à franciser la majorité des nouveaux venus (je laisse le pourcentage exact aux experts) tient franchement du miracle, et dont principal mérite revient à l’école, pièce maîtresse de la loi 101. L’enjeu crucial reste la deuxième génération (et aussi des nouveaux venus d’âge scolaire). Si l’école française fait bien son travail, les futurs Québécois demanderont tout naturellement d’être servis en français et de vivre en français.

Mais, là encore, le milieu ambiant a son importance. La francisation par l’école sera toujours plus difficile dans le West Island que dans Rosemont. Cette réalité démographique et géographique nous invite à porter plus d’attention à la répartition spatiale des nouveaux venus. Revoir la politique de régionalisation de l’immigration est, bien entendu, un premier impératif. Pourquoi, par exemple, ne pas réserver 10 000 certificats de sélection « supplémentaires » à des candidats indépendants ayant une offre ferme d’emploi en région et qui s’engagent à s’y installer ; cela permettrait par le même biais au gouvernement de réconcilier son seuil souhaité de 40 000 immigrants annuels avec le plafond actuel de 50 000. Pour le Grand Montréal, pourquoi ne pas aussi envisager un service d’aide au logement, destiné notamment aux réfugiés et aux immigrants indépendants, dont l’un des objectifs serait de diriger des nouveaux venus vers des quartiers et commissions scolaires plus aptes à les intégrer? Même si cela n’affectera sans doute le choix résidentiel que d’un faible pourcentage d’immigrants, ce ne sera pas moins un levier de plus pour une politique réussie d’immigration.

 

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Employment gap narrows between university-educated immigrants and Canadian-born counterparts

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The unemployment gap between university-educated immigrants and their Canadian counterparts in the GTA has significantly narrowed over the last two decades, but employers’ demand for Canadian job experience remains a key barrier for newcomers, a new study has found.

In 2001, newcomers with at least a Bachelor’s degree had an unemployment rate that was 3.85 times higher than their Canadian-born peers, but by 2016, this had dropped to only 2.4 times, said the report commissioned by the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC).

Eishita Alam, a banker from Bangladesh, enrolled in a job readiness program for newcomers within weeks of her arrival in Toronto last July. She says the lack of Canadian job experience is still a barrier in her job search.
Eishita Alam, a banker from Bangladesh, enrolled in a job readiness program for newcomers within weeks of her arrival in Toronto last July. She says the lack of Canadian job experience is still a barrier in her job search.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

“This does indeed suggest that the circumstances of newcomers are improving,” said the report titled State of Immigrant Inclusion in GTA Labour Market. “The gap persists, but it is getting smaller.”

While newcomers with a Canadian degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics/IT) subject are doing nearly as well as their Canadian-born counterparts, the report said immigrant women with a degree from outside Canada in a non-STEM subject fare the worst.

Based on census data between 2001 and 2016, the report tracked the makeup of the GTA labour market and immigrants’ job prospects since TRIEC was established in 2003 to address Canada’s doctors-driving-cabs immigrant conundrum.

In 2001, university-educated immigrants had an unemployment rate of 13.1 per cent, almost four times higher than the 3.4 per cent rate for Canadians with the same level of education. While the jobless rate for those immigrants still hovered at around 12.5 per cent, the rate among Canada-born degree-holders shot up to 5.2 per cent.

One possible contributing factor for the narrowing gap, the report said, was the higher number of newcomers who now possess Canadian education credentials.

In 2006, only 8 per cent of newcomers to the GTA had earned a degree in Canada, but by 2011, it had more than doubled, to 18 per cent. It was at 17 per cent in 2016.

The data also showed newcomers who arrived in Ontario with university degrees before 1990 ultimately worked in a job that requires a university degree at the same rate as their Canadian counterparts — roughly 70 per cent. However, only 54 per cent of degree-holding newcomers who arrived in the last decade are at a comparable job.

“It is taking too long for immigrants to catch up with their Canadian-born counterparts,” said the report. “Unemployment at the start of an immigrant’s working life in Canada can have a long-lasting impact.”

Mexican immigrant Miguel Abascal is a testament to that struggle.

With a Master’s degree in finance, the former CEO of a coffee production and distribution company moved to Canada in 2010 and found his first Canadian job at a Tim Hortons in Burlington. He sent out hundreds of resumés without yielding a single interview.

After a year, he enrolled in a government-funded job search program and got a job as a bankruptcy processer, then selling insurance door-to-door and going back to Tim Hortons before landing a job as a teller with help from a TD branch manager he met at a networking event in 2013.

“For four years, I was living my Canadian nightmare,” said Abascal, 35, who was quickly promoted through the ranks and is now a project manager at the bank. “I’m finally living my Canadian dream, but four, five years were too long. We want newcomers to realize their dream and full potential in five weeks.”

Miguel Abascal, who is now a project manager at the TD Bank, came to Canada from Mexico in 2010 with a Master's degree in finance. He says landing his first good job here proved a challenge.
Miguel Abascal, who is now a project manager at the TD Bank, came to Canada from Mexico in 2010 with a Master’s degree in finance. He says landing his first good job here proved a challenge.  (Picasa)

Abascal said there are more organizations offering mentoring and networking programs these days than when he first came. He has seen more recent newcomers joining the bank at entry level jobs in his five years there.

The “Canadian dream is powered by networking. It’s all about connections and referrals,” said Abascal. “At the end of the day, it’s about an employer’s trust in you.”

The study also surveyed employers and immigrant employment service providers and found credential recognition, the need for Canadian experience, perceptions about language and communication skills, bias and discrimination have remained the main employment barriers for newcomers.

Iren Koltermann, who co-authored the study with Denise McLean, said Canada must scale up mentorship and career-bridging programs that have been proven effective for the integration of newcomers and strive to make a “Canadian experience requirement” a thing of the past.

“What is Canadian experience? It’s a lexicon no one can define,” said Koltermann. “We can’t use a blanket term and reduce it to cliché. Is it about not being educated in health and safety? We need to unpack and explain it.”

KPMG Canada has for years had a formal strategy to attract and retain global talent and promote inclusion and diversity. It measures and sets annual goals for the organization’s gender and visible minority representation. Last year, 20 per cent of those who were promoted to become partners were people of colour, 5 per cent higher than four years ago.

“Because of the nature of the firm in tax and audit, we do require technical knowledge, but it should not be a barrier,” said Kristine Remedios, KPMG Canada’s national leader in inclusion and diversity. “They are internationally trained and we can offer support for some of that education within the firm.”

The changing labour market landscape does help recent skilled immigrants hit the ground running faster.

Unlike Abascal, Eishita Alam, a banker from Bangladesh, enrolled in a job readiness program for newcomers within weeks of her arrival in Toronto last July. In September, she was matched with a professional mentor through TRIEC.

The 37-year-old woman has garnered five job interviews through her nascent professional network, but is still without a job.

“I didn’t have high school friends or former colleagues in my network and must start from zero here,” said Alam, who has an MBA and held a director position in credit analysis with Standard Chartered, a British bank, in Dhaka.

“The barrier for us is the lack of Canadian experience. There’s still a lack of recognition of our international experience.”

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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‘I didn’t come here to live this kind of life’: Skilled immigrants on their desperate hunt for jobs in Quebec

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Instead of sparring over how many immigrants Quebec should accept, Abdul Waheed wishes provincial politicians were talking about how to help skilled workers like him get jobs in their field so they could integrate into Quebec society.

Trained as a chemist and armed with two master’s degrees, Waheed abandoned the chance to pursue his PhD studies in Hong Kong to immigrate to Quebec with his wife and three children five years ago.

Originally from Pakistan, Waheed was confident he’d eventually find a job in his field in Quebec — possibly in the pharmaceutical, food or petrochemical industries.

The only job he has found is at a call centre.

Abdul Waheed holds up a certificate he received after completing a seven-week course on how to improve his CV and write a cover letter. The trained chemist has two master’s degrees in science but has gone back to college in the hope of finding a job in his field. (CBC)

He’s scoured countless employment sites and sent out hundreds of CVs, taking almost every job-finding program offered by Emploi Québec and studying French. Nothing has led to a better job.

« I can’t express the feeling of dismay and despair I have because of this, » said Waheed, 39, who lives with his family in a cramped one-bedroom apartment in Montreal’s Parc-Extension neighbourhood.

He says his 11-year-old daughter asks him what’s the point of all his education.

« I feel like a big failure, » said Waheed. « I didn’t come here to live this kind of life. »

Duelling immigration visions

Quebec has an estimated 90,000 unfilled jobs, and municipal leaders, business and employers groups have called on the province to accept more immigrants to fill them.

But immigration has become a political hot potato in this provincial campaign, with Coalition Avenir Québec making cuts to immigration a key plank in its platform.

Both the Liberals and Québec Solidaire say they’d maintain the current quota of immigrants — about 53,000 a year.

The Parti Québécois says it would let the auditor general set the number.

The CAQ wants to slash the number of immigrants by 20 per cent, until Quebec assesses the effectiveness of its programs at retaining and integrating newcomers.

If elected Oct. 1, CAQ Leader François Legault says his party would reduce Quebec’s annual quota of immigrants by 20 per cent. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

CAQ Leader François Legault says far too many immigrants don’t stay in Quebec, citing Immigration Ministry statistics that show 10 years after their arrival, more than a quarter of all immigrants have left.

A more recent Institut du Québec study, released last week, puts the immigration retention rate at 18 per cent, behind Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta but ahead of the Atlantic provinces, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

The same study shows that 58 per cent of immigrants arrive without a working knowledge of French, making it difficult for them to integrate into the workforce.

Legault has seized on that point, vowing to compel recent arrivals to take a French exam and a values test within three years of arriving in Quebec — and to refuse to issue those who fail with a Quebec selection certificate, which immigrants need to apply for permanent residency.

The PQ says immigrants should have a sufficient knowledge of French and Quebec values before arriving in the province.

Language, identity politics ‘unsettling’

The political debate is unsettling for many newcomers.

« All of them are fully aware of the importance of French, » says Luis Miguel Cristancho, the director of Bienvenue à Quebec, a welcome centre for new immigrants and refugees in Montreal’s west end.

Bienvenue à NDG helps immigrants integrate with a range of services, including providing French and English courses. (CBC)

As he speaks, two French classes are underway: one for Chinese-speaking seniors, the other for refugees, foreign students and temporary workers who hope to stay in Quebec.

Unfortunately, Cristancho says, some are forced to quit French classes because they have to get jobs to support their families.

He believes the government has to find more ways to offer French-language training beyond the classroom.

« You need to make French accessible in every single corner, » said Cristancho.

« Learning a language is about living a language. It’s about learning French in your workplace, at school, everywhere. »

Programs ‘fragmented,’ ‘underfunded’

Prof. Marie-Thérèse Chicha agrees. An economist at Université de Montréal’s school of industrial relations, Chicha describes Quebec’s efforts as « fragmented » and « underfunded. »

This year alone, Chicha says, Quebec received nearly half a billion dollars in transfer payments for programs such as PRIIME, a provincial subsidy for employers who hire new immigrants, to offset training and integration costs.

Marie-Thérèse Chicha, a professor of industrial relations at Université de Montréal, describes the province’s integration efforts as ‘fragmented.’ (CBC)

Last year, that program helped fewer than 1,500 immigrants.

« That’s small compared to the number of immigrants who arrive in Quebec and are highly skilled, » said Chicha.

French no job guarantee

The CAQ has pointed out that the unemployment rate is 15.8 per cent among immigrants who have been here for five years or less — nearly 10 points higher than the general population.

However, Chicha points out one of the highest levels of unemployment is among North African immigrants from Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, who all speak French fluently.

« There are other obstacles, » she said — namely, discrimination.

Sherbrooke resident Aida Chebbi fears that is what is behind her husband’s struggle to find a job.

Chebbi and her husband, Reffaat Bouzid, immigrated to Quebec from Tunisia with their two young children in 2013.

« Our whole project to come here was based on my husband being able to work as an architect, » said Chebbi.

It took Reffaat Bouzid three years to have his credentials recognized by Quebec’s Order of Architects. Bouzid, seen here with his family, received his permit to practice in June 2017 but still can’t find work as an architect.

Bouzid earned his degree in France and has more than 30 years’ international experience, designing everything from houses to hotels.

But once here, it took three years to have his credentials recognized. 

He finally got his permit to practice in June 2017 but still can’t land a job. 

He’s only had one job interview — where he was told, at 56, he was too old.

« Without a doubt, our origins are behind this refusal, » said Chebbi.

The family has had to borrow money to make ends meet, and Bouzid has taken small jobs as a cleaner. Recently, he’s had health problems which Chebbi blames on stress.

Chebbi is wrapping up a master’s degree in biomechanical engineering and will soon be looking for a job herself, but she’s bracing herself for disappointment.

« I’m prepared to leave Quebec if I’m offered an opportunity elsewhere, » said Chebbi.

« We moved here to have a better life, and that starts with jobs. »

Discrimination an obstacle

Chicha says Quebec’s labour shortage means the province can’t afford to reduce the number of immigrants, and those who frame immigration as a threat are using it as « an excuse not to act. »

She says if the next government wants to avoid more immigrants giving up on Quebec, it has to admit systemic discrimination exists.

One tangible way of tackling it, she said, is by expanding employment equity programs.

All employers should be required, by law, to hire a certain percentage of skilled visible minorities, Chicha said.

Bienvenue à NDG’s director, Luis Miguel Cristancho, says the government needs to do more to promote the benefits of hiring immigrants. (CBC)

That would strengthen their social and professional networks and help them integrate, said Chicha.

Right now, Chicha says, the blame too often falls on immigrants if they have trouble learning French or finding a job in their field.

« In fact, it’s other actors who have a large responsibility — employers and the government, » said Chicha.

Bienvenue à Quebec’s Cristancho agrees.

« It’s this society that really needs to open up to these newcomers, » he said. He’d like to see more awareness programs about the benefits of hiring immigrants.

‘I want them to be proud of me’

Abdul Waheed just wants the chance to prove what he can do as a chemist.

In 2016, seeing no other option, he headed back to school.

He’ll soon graduate with a diploma in laboratory technology and analytical chemistry from Dawson College.

Waheed hopes a CEGEP certificate plus the connections he’s made there are enough to finally get him a job in his field.

« If not, I’ll be left with no other option but to relocate, » said Waheed, although he fervently hopes to stay in Quebec, where his family is now settled.

His daughter and son chatter away in French effortlessly now. Arriving home from school, his daughter shows off an award she got that day.

« Of course, I am proud of my kids, » said Waheed.

« I want them to be proud of me. »

The Pakistani chemist came to Montreal with his wife and three children five years ago, but despite having two master’s degrees, he can only find work in a call centre. 1:58

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