Legault says economic migrants must 'speak and write French' before coming to Québec

Unless migrants demonstrate 'exceptional talents' or a 'unique expertise,' such as doctors, all will be subject to the province's strict language requirements, according to Québec Premier François Legault.

Legault says economic migrants must 'speak and write French' before coming to Québec
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Québec Premier François Legault informed the media that economic migrants coming to the province must speak and write French, reaffirming his commitment to protect the province's francophone identity.

"In the last 10, 15, 20 years, we see the percentage of people speaking French is decreasing, so we have to do something," he told reporters. "I think it's important that we request that they speak French before being accepted."

Legault called the French language "the heart" of the Québec nation. 

Unless migrants demonstrate 'exceptional talents' or a 'unique expertise,' such as doctors, all will be subject to the province's strict language requirements, according to Québec's premier. Migration is based on a points-based system, recognizing skills and qualifications, with extra credit for speaking French.

Hady Anne, the Québec spokesman for Solidarity Across Borders, advised the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) to listen to business owners and retain francophone migrants already working in the province and those who learned French since arriving.

Legault told supporters last fall it would be "a bit suicidal" for Québec to increase annual immigration quotas, citing difficulties with properly integrating newcomers and teaching them French. 

"[The CAQ] should give migrants a chance to show their skills and then develop a love for the language," said Anne. "A lot of migrants are not attracted to Québec. They come here and move to other provinces because they have a negative experience there."

Now, the CAQ leader may increase the province's annual target of 50,000 immigrants to 60,000 by 2027 after consulting Québeckers and immigration experts, representing a departure from past policy stances. 

"In the future — this is the first time we've done this in the history of Québec — to be eligible to make an application to emigrate to Québec you will have to have a proficiency in French," said Legault, adding former governments have not done enough to protect the French language.

"Unfortunately, for many years now, we see the percentage of francophones in Québec decreasing," he said, noting that less than half (48%) of residents on the island of Montreal are francophones.

Earlier this month, Legault rejected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's plan to welcome 500,000 permanent immigrants annually to Canada by 2025. He said there is "no question" of Québec accepting that amount, owing to concerns about integrating and housing immigrants.

The Québec legislature adopted a motion declaring Ottawa's plan incompatible with protecting the French in Québec, stating "it is up to Québec alone to make its own choices" on immigration.

"We will be able to stop the decline of French and [ensure] our kids and grandkids can continue living in a French-speaking Québec," said Legault. "When I retire, I'll be very proud of that."

However, the CAQ leader said Spanish speakers from South America could qualify for entry if they learn French before applying, given their recruitment drive in francophone countries and Latin America to attract skilled economic migrants, who account for 65% of newcomers to the province.

In March, the Biden administration urged Canada — home to a large diaspora of French-speaking Haitians, mainly in Québec — to lead in resettling many Haitian migrants.

"[On migration issues], we're well aware of Canadian concerns. We have concerns of our own [too]," said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. "It's a hemispheric, shared regional challenge. So I do not doubt that they'll discuss it."

Senior government officials in Ottawa said the discussion on Haiti would only involve Ottawa and Washington, but not the Haitians themselves.

According to Panama's Department of Migration, tens of thousands of migrants crossed the Darien Gap between South and Central America. Of the 49,291 migrants who crossed the Darien in January and February, 16,744 were Haitians.

About 800 people a day crossed through the Darien Gap in January and February — usually the slowest period of the year. Human Rights Watch (HRW) expects summer 2023 will smash all previous records.

"Haitians are generally thought to be one of the nationalities most likely to continue their journeys as far as Canada for reasons of language and family connections," said the HRW. 

"Many have already tried establishing themselves in another country in the Americas, Chile, Brazil and Colombia. [However], they often face many challenges, including racism…in South America."

"We are open to accepting refugees," said Legault last year, though he contends that most Roxham Road migrants "are not refugees." 

In 2022, 39,171 asylum seekers crossed Québec through the unofficial Roxham Road border crossing, which officially closed in March after Canada and the U.S. struck a deal to close loopholes in the Safe Third Country Agreement.

The CAQ leader firmly told Ottawa earlier this year that migrants and asylum seekers could no longer come to Canada through Roxham Road, citing "thinly stretched" resources to accommodate more migrants.

"It is time for Justin Trudeau to put out a new tweet to say not to come anymore because we have exceeded our reception capacity," said Legault.

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