Québec Immigration Policy

​Québec’s policies on immigration and integration are different from the federal government’s (see Immigration Policy), in particular in the way that Québec represents itself and is represented abroad as a society that receives and integrates new immigrants.
​Québec’s policies on immigration and integration are different from the federal government’s (see Immigration Policy), in particular in the way that Québec represents itself and is represented abroad as a society that receives and integrates new immigrants.

Québec’s policies on immigration and integration are different from the federal government’s (see Immigration Policy), in particular in the way that Québec represents itself and is represented abroad as a society that receives and integrates new immigrants. Although Québec has never gained total control over policies on immigration and citizenship, it has made some major strides in this direction since the Quiet Revolution, through the explicit demographic, economic, linguistic and humanitarian objectives of its various public policies.

Canada as a whole has grown increasingly open to the world and its diversity since the mid-1960s, when racist selection criteria were first removed from the federal Immigration Act. The forces behind this trend have included intensification of international migration, a growing number of refugees and the growing needs for labour resulting from structural transformations in the labour market in connection with globalization. Québec has experienced these major changes while continuing to affirm its international influence as a distinct society and the international importance of French, its official language.

Immigration and Demographics

According to the National Household Survey, the population of Québec in 2011 totalled 7 903 001 people, 12.6 per cent of whom were born abroad. In comparison, the proportions of immigrants in the populations of Canada and the United States were 20.6 per cent and 12 per cent, respectively. In Québec, 150 languages are spoken and over 200 religions are practiced. Islam is experiencing strong growth in Québec, though Muslims represent only 1.5 per cent of its population. The proportion of babies born in Québec with at least one foreign-born parent was 29.4 per cent in 2013, compared with 14.6 per cent in 1990.

Within Canada, Québec’s demographic weight has been declining steadily. Québec accounted for 32.3 per cent of Canada’s population in 1871, but only 23.1 per cent by 2014. This proportion is expected to fall to 17 per cent by 2050, because of two factors: the sharp decline in birth rates among both francophones and anglophones in Québec and the greater tendency of immigrants to settle in English Canada.

Again according to the 2011 National Household Survey, 11 per cent of Québec’s people are members of visible minorities (compared with 19.1 per cent for Canada as a whole). The largest visible-minority groups in Québec are Blacks (28.7 per cent of all members of visible minorities), Arabs (19.6 per cent) and Latin Americans (13.7 per cent). Knowledge of French is growing among both anglophones and allophones (people whose mother tongue is neither French nor English): 50 per cent in 1971, 70.7 per cent in 1991, 75.5 per cent in 2001 and 79.2 per cent in 2011.

Sociologically speaking, Québec, like the rest of North America, has a heterogeneous population with a very wide variety of professional qualifications, resources and work experience. From 2006 to 2010, the main countries of origin of immigrants to Québec were, in descending order of their numbers, Algeria, Morocco, France, China, Colombia, Haiti, Lebanon, the Philippines, Romania and Mexico.

The Montréal metropolitan area continues to be home to the vast majority of immigrants living in Québec (86.5 per cent). Immigrants account for 29.6 per cent of this area’s population, compared with 24.6 per cent in the city of Laval, 17.8 per cent in the city of Longueuil and 3.8 per cent in the rest of the province.

Immigration Policy

Section 95 of the Constitution Act, 1867 makes immigration an area of shared jurisdiction between the federal government and the provinces. Québec began to intervene systematically in this area of public policy at the time of the Quiet Revolution. Since then, Québec has always sought to make itself an integrated society, to ensure its demographic and political weight within Canada, to prevent language transfers to English and to promote intercultural relations and respect for diversity in Québec’s political community. The first step in this direction was the creation of a Ministry of Immigration in 1968. In the ensuing years, Québec has also signed a number of immigration agreements with the federal government — most recently, the Canada-Quebec Accord Relating to Immigration and Temporary Admission of Aliens, in 1991. These agreements have enhanced Québec’s ability to select and integrate immigrants and to ensure its development as a nation within North America. The Canada-Québec Accord is designed to preserve Québec’s demographic importance within Canada and to integrate immigrants to Québec in a manner that respects its “distinct identity” (section 2).

The federal government remains solely responsible for admitting immigrants into Canada and for determining the total number of immigrants admitted annually, but takes into consideration the number of immigrants that the Government of Québec wishes to receive, as well as Québec’s criteria and conditions for residence (such as duration of stay and authorization to work and study) and reasons for refusing admission (for example, health grounds, security reasons, or having been convicted of a crime). The federal government defines the general standards for processing immigration applications and the general categories of immigrants. It determines which immigrants can apply under the Family Class and the financial responsibilities assumed by their sponsors. It is solely responsible for processing applications for refugee status made within Canada. And lastly, it defines and grants citizenship.

Québec, for its part, has secured sole responsibility in three areas related to permanent immigration: 1) the desired number of immigrants; 2) the selection of candidates who wish to settle in Québec (except for applicants for refugee status and members of the Family Class); 3) administration, monitoring and duration of sponsorship undertakings. Also, with regard to temporary immigration, Québec’s consent is required to: 1) issue a work permit; 2) issue a study permit and admit foreign students (except those participating in a Canadian program of assistance to developing countries); 3) authorize foreigners to come to Québec for medical treatment.

Under the terms of the Canada-Québec Accord, the Government of Québec is responsible for providing reception and economic and linguistic integration services to new permanent residents. Canada compensates Québec financially for providing these services, so long as they correspond to those offered by Canada in the rest of the country and are provided to permanent residents who could have been selected by Canada.

From 2004 to 2013, Québec received nearly 485 000 immigrants, or an average of 48 485 per year. In 2013, it received 51 959. Permanent immigrants are divided into three categories: economic immigrants (67 per cent, including skilled workers, business people, family caregivers, etc.); members of the Family Class (23.9 per cent); and refugees (8.1 per cent) and other immigrants admitted on humanitarian grounds or for reasons of public interest (1 per cent). Because the federal government still has the ultimate authority to determine conditions for admission of families and refugees, close to 33 per cent of all immigrants to Québec are not selected by Québec. Québec has no decisive authority over the movement of temporary workers, either. The Government of Québec wants the federal government to assume the cost of the government services provided to support applicants for refugee status who are cared for entirely by the province. Lastly, Québec does not grant citizenship in the legal sense of the term, a fact that casts references to “Québec citizenship” in a somewhat ambiguous light.

Like Canada, Québec adjusts its immigration policies in response to fluctuations in the economy and in its capacity to absorb new immigrants.

The Québec Model of Integration

Absent the ability to grant full-fledged citizenship, Québec implements its immigration policies together with a number of other measures to help integrate immigrants into Québec society. Important steps in this direction have included the secularization of Québec’s public institutions (except the school system), and the francization of the public space by the Charter of the French Language (Bill 101), which separates the French language from its ethnic roots and makes it the language of government and the common language of citizens in their public lives. Québec has also taken a number of legal steps to fight discrimination and guarantee individuals’ cultural rights. For example, it has adhered to a number of international covenants and conventions on human rights, adopted the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (1975), issued the Québec Declaration on Intercultural and Interracial Relations (1985) and implemented programs to provide equal access to employment.

Over the years, the Government of Québec has issued a number of statements and action plans regarding its model of integration. Its first action plan for Québec’s “cultural communities,” Autant de façons d’être Québécois,was released in 1981 in the aftermath of the referendum on Québec sovereignty (see Québec Referendum (1980)). The goals of this plan were to maintain and develop Québec’s cultural communities, to sensitize Quebecers to the contribution of these communities to Québec’s shared heritage and to promote their integration in Québec’s public institutions, notably through access to employment. The Québec model proposed in this plan, “cultural convergence,” is different from the American melting pot, Canadian multiculturalism and French assimilation. This model defines Québec as a nation with a French character, where French culture represents a focus of convergence for minority cultures, but where the legitimacy of these cultures is affirmed, along with the Government of Québec’s intention to keep them “original and alive wherever they express themselves.” Québec also established its Ministry of Cultural Communities and Immigration (MCCI) in 1981, followed by the Council of Cultural Communities and Immigration in 1984. This body was composed of representatives of civil society, and its role was to provide the Minister with critical advice. It was dissolved in 2011.

In 1990, the MCCI published a policy statement on immigration and integration entitled Let’s Build Québec Together. This document proposed a plan for integrating immigrants and cultural communities on the basis of a moral contract encompassing what the Québec government defined shortly thereafter as the elements of a “common public culture”: democratic values, secularism of the state, peaceful resolution of conflicts, French as the official and common language, pluralism, and equality between women and men. This document made interculturalism, adaptation of institutions to diversity and reasonable accommodation integral parts of the vision that it expressed, thus continuing the government policy set out in 1981.

The Ministry has changed its name several times since, as various governments came to power. It became the Ministry of International Affairs, Immigration and Cultural Communities in 1994, and the Ministry of Citizen Relations and Immigration in 1996, when the Québec government began promoting a new approach, based on citizenship, the “civic framework” and Québec’s common heritage. The concept of citizenship represented progress, in that it emphasized the political ties that bind all citizens, and not only the intercultural ties, while also reaffirming the diversity of the Québec people.

This approach encountered resistance, however, and in 2005, the Ministry of Citizen Relations and Immigration was replaced by the Ministry of Immigration and Cultural Communities. The government adopted a new policy entitled Diversity: An Added Value, to promote the participation of all Quebecers in the development of Québec.The Québec government’s objectives, as described in this policy, were successful integration, economic mobilization of diversity, and promotion of the French language. This new policy included measures in the areas of rights education, the fight against racism and discrimination, and intercultural rapprochement. It was accompanied by a government action plan to promote the participation of all Quebecers in the development of Québec; this plan covered the period 2008‒2013 and was completed in March 2014.

The new policy was also accompanied by a declaration on the common values of Québec society, which had to be signed by anyone applying to select Québec as their immigration destination. This declaration lists the values set out in Québec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms that form the foundation of Québec society: “Québec is a free and democratic society. Political and religious powers are separate in Québec. Québec is a pluralist society. Québec society is based on the rule of law. Women and men have the same rights. The exercise of human rights and freedoms must respect the rights and freedoms of others and the general well-being.” This declaration also underscores that Québec society is governed by the Charter of the French Language, which makes French its official language.

In 2014, by Order in Council, the Ministry’s name was changed again, to the Ministry of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion. At the same time, the Québec government began interministerial discussions to develop a new public policy on immigration, diversity and inclusion to replace the policy statement on immigration and integration issued in 1990. To this end, in 2015, Québec’s Parliamentary Committee on Citizen Relations undertook special consultations and public hearings on a paper entitled Towards a New Québec Policy on Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion. These consultations dealt with the vision, guidelines and strategic choices that would become the foundation for Québec’s new policy.

Québec’s policies on immigration, integration and inclusion, and the categories that it applies in this regard, have varied considerably over the years, depending on the government in power. These changes have undermined the consistency and continuity of philosophy and practice, both within the Québec government and within its municipalities.

Further Reading

  • M. Labelle, Racisme et antiracisme. Discours et déclinaisons (Québec : PUQ, 2011).

    M. Labelle and X. Dionne, Les fondements théoriques de l’interculturalisme, Rapport présenté à la Direction de la gestion de la diversité et de l'intégration sociale, Ministère de l’Immigration et des Communautés culturelles du Québec (Montréal: Chaire de recherche en immigration, ethnicité et citoyenneté, Université du Québec à Montréal, 2011).

    M. Labelle and F. Rocher, "Immigration, Integration and Citizenship Policies in Canada and Quebec: Tug of War between Competing Societal Projects," in R. Zapata-Barrero, ed., Immigration and Self-government of Minority Nations (Brussels: Peter Lang, 2009), 57-85.

    M. Labelle and F. Rocher, eds., in collaboration with A.-M. Field, Contestation transnationale, diversité et citoyenneté dans l’espace québécois (Québec: PUQ, 2004).

    M. Labelle, R. Antonius and P. Toussaint, eds., Les nationalismes québécois face à la diversité ethnoculturelle (Montréal: Éditions de l’IEIM, 2013).

    M. Labelle, J. Couture and F.W. Remiggi, eds., La communauté politique en question. Regards croisés sur l’immigration, la citoyenneté, la diversité et le pouvoir (Québec: PUQ, 2012).

    M. Labelle, F. Rocher and R. Antonius, Immigration, diversité et sécurité: les associations arabo-musulmanes face à l’État au Canada et au Québec (Québec: PUQ, 2009).

    M. Labelle, A.-M. Field and J.-C. Icart, Les dimensions d'intégration des immigrants, des minorités ethnoculturelles et des groupes racisés au Québec, Rapport présenté à la Commission de consultation sur les pratiques d'accommodement reliées aux différences culturelles (Montréal: Chaire de recherche en immigration, ethnicité et citoyenneté, Université du Québec à Montréal, 31 August 2007).

    M. Labelle, R. Antonius and G. Leroux, eds., Le devoir de mémoire et les politiques du pardon (Québec: PUQ, 2005).

    F. Rocher, M. Labelle, A.-M. Field and J.-C. Icart, Le concept d'interculturalisme en contexte québécois: généalogie d'un néologisme, Rapport présenté à la Commission de consultation sur les pratiques d'accommodement reliées aux différences culturelles (Montréal : Chaire de recherche en immigration, ethnicité et citoyenneté, Université du Québec à Montréal, 21 December 2007).

    F. Rocher. and M. Labelle, "L'interculturalisme comme modèle d'aménagement de la diversité : compréhension et incompréhension dans l'espace public québécois." in B. Gagnon, ed., La diversité québécoise en débat : Bouchard, Taylor et les autres (Montréal: Québec-Amérique, 2010), 179-203.

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