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Immigrate to Canada as a French speaker

March 27, 2021

For several years, the Government of Canada has been stepping up its efforts to attract Francophone immigrants to communities outside Quebec.

These efforts are driven by declines in francophone populations across the country and the importance of ensuring their survival and reversing a trend that is threatening the very fabric of Canada’s linguistic duality—consisting of both English and French speakers.

Typically, French-speaking foreign nationals will consider Quebec as an immigration destination of choice in Canada. Quebec is the only province in Canada where French is the only official language and approximately 80 per cent of Quebecers speak French as a first language, according to Statistics Canada. Canada’s Francophone community, however, extends far beyond Quebec’s borders to numerous communities across the country.

To ensure the vitality and sustainability of these communities, Francophone and Acadian associations have been working hard to attract, recruit, welcome and integrate Francophone newcomers.

In 2018, the Government of Canada set a target of 4.4 per cent of Francophone immigrants settling outside Quebec by 2023. The Immigration Department has also invested additional funds in settlement services for Francophone immigrants in recent years. Most recently, Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) started giving Francophone and bilingual applicants more points in the Express Entry system.

Francophone immigration outside Quebec in 2020

Recent efforts lead to steady growth in the number of francophone newcomer settlements across Canada. This, of course, until last year where almost all provinces saw a decline in the number of new Francophone permanent residents in 2020, according to government data.

For example, Alberta recorded 465 new Francophone permanent residents in 2020, compared to 600 in 2019, a decrease of about 23 per cent. New Brunswick saw a decline of more than 25 per cent. Ontario, which has the largest francophone population outside of Quebec, saw a 35 per cent drop in new permanent residents last year.

Only 184,370 new immigrants came to Canada in 2020, well below IRCC’s target of 341,000. This was the weakest year for Canadian immigration since 1998.  Still, the strong start to the current year suggests that Canada is well-positioned to meet its ambitious goal of welcoming 401,000 immigrants by the end of the year.

Can speaking French be an asset when immigrating to a Canadian province other than Quebec?

The answer to this question is yes.

This is true not only for getting a work permit but also for those seeking to immigrate to Canada permanently.

In 2016, Canada launched a work permit option called Mobilité Francophone as the latest addition to the International Mobility Program (IMP). Mobilité Francophone aims to facilitate the hiring of skilled French or bilingual workers for employers in certain regions of Canada outside the province of Quebec.

The stream expedites the process when hiring French-speaking or bilingual foreign workers in management, professional, technical or skilled trades positions if the job offer is located in a French-speaking minority community outside of Quebec. It allows Canadian employers to skip the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) process, which is often required when hiring foreign talent.

When it comes to permanent residency, Francophones receive additional points under Canada’s main skilled worker immigrant selection system, called Express Entry. Designed to select applicants who meet the criteria of the Federal Skilled Worker Program, the Canadian Experience Class and the Federal Skilled Trades Program, the system recognizes French language skills and awards points for high levels of French language proficiency.  This means that between two applicants with similar work experience and academic backgrounds, an applicant who is proficient in French will have a better chance than one who is proficient only in English.

In addition to the Express Entry system, Canada has a successful Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). Provincial governments administer their own unique immigration programs, and some have streams specifically designed to recruit French speakers and help them integrate into francophone communities. Such is the case of Ontario’s French-Speaking Skilled Worker stream of the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP), which allows Express Entry candidates with advanced-intermediate French ability to get an enhanced OINP provincial nomination.

Nova Scotia also invites French-speaking candidates through its Labour Market Priorities Stream.

In addition, PNPs allow candidates to submit test results confirming French ability for PNP streams in which language ability is a factor. Essentially, French language skills are considered no less valuable than English language skills in many PNP streams.