A week across the pond

Published on
Wed, 06/03/2013 - 13:46

Geert Daems, coordinator of the reception and programme counselors at bon, just came back from a visit to Québec. He wrote down a few of his thoughts and impressions.

Last week, I had the honour and pleasure of joining a few sector colleagues on a trip to Québec, a relatively autonomous, French-speaking province in Canada. Under a steady snowfall, we met with the immigration authorities, and the reception and guidance ‘organismes’ in the field.

In Canada, immigration is an important answer to the ageing and shrinking population. Due to its geographic location, Canada can organise its immigration with very specific aims. For the most part, Canada chooses selective economic migration: the highly educated, investors, and labourers with special skills.

Québec is the only Canadian province that may decide its own immigration selection criteria, and that is due to the prominent position of the French language. Québec must apply an arsenal of instruments in order to achieve the goal of the long-term establishment and activation of immigrants on its territory.

We saw that establishment track. Someone who gets access to Québec also gets access to an electronic platform with information about establishment practicalities, the labour market, and recognition of qualifications and competencies, as well as a distance counselor. Another platform offers the possibility to follow Francization through distance learning. The integration process, therefore, already starts months before arrival.

The physical reception already begins at the airport, the most important gateway to Québec.  An immigration official receives the newcomer, provides basic information, and explains what the programme is for the first few weeks. That includes a 3-hour informational session in French, if necessary some extra language classes, and a 24-hour social orientation course, among other things. Finally, there is the handoff to ‘Emploi Québec’ and/or other guidance organisations.

It was a learning experience to compare Flanders-Brussels and Québec. What are the differences?

  • The integration on location is not obligatory, and it is free, but the immigration itself is very costly. 
  • The speed of the offer.
  • The immigrant receives compensation when following language classes.
  • There are many collaborations and meetings between the business world and the immigrant, which are often organised by local organisations.
  • Regionalisation policy: spreading immigrants out over the territory, by actively and specifically working to match a job vacancy and an immigrant.
  • Financial incentives for employers to recruit and support immigrants.
  • Certain organisations assume the role of an employment consultant for immigrants and go further than our welcome offices, for example, by setting up a personal action plan, interview simulations, and facilitating internships.
  • No central data exchange between organisations and the ministry, no integrated (goals) framework.
  • The ‘organismes’ work with budgets from different origins and have great autonomy, a different profile, target group, and way of working. Depending on the speaker, this way of working can have a limited effect or can be tailored.
  • The roles and framework of the interveners seem to be less developed than in Flanders-Brussels.

There are also remarkable similarities:

  • Unemployment among immigrants is higher than the average for Québec.
  • It usually takes several years before an immigrant achieves the desired social-economic position.
  • Despite selection, Canada also has a lot of overqualified immigrants.
  • Recognising diplomas and competencies is slow and sometimes it fails.
  • There is discrimination towards immigrants, which is most prominent among the ‘physically visible` immigrants.
  • The regionalisation occurred because unemployment was higher in the big city of Montreal than in the outskirts.

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