Immigration: now and foreverViewpoint by Isabelle Hudon

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Added on 10 April 2008 in Viewpoints

Text signed by Isabelle Hudon, president and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, published in Voir on April 10, 2008. 

Immigration: now and forever

For my very first Antidote column, I had decided to discuss the issue of immigration. Although only six months have passed since the column appeared, I feel it is relevant to bring up the topic again.

When I hear the terms demographics, labour (usually followed by “shortage”), population and, of course, immigration, two statistics usually come to mind.

The first is 100%, as in 100% of Montréal's net labour growth will soon be attributable to international immigration. In other words, somewhere  between 2010 and 2015, immigration will be the only source of workforce growth in the metropolitan area.

The second is 80%, as in 80% of the immigrants who come to Quebec settle in Greater Montréal.

These two figures alone demonstrate the importance of immigration to the future of our economy and the unique situation in which Montréal finds itself in relation to the rest of Quebec, one that clearly has its advantages but that also entails enormous integration challenges.

This puts things into perspective. In fact, I think that the benefit of repeating these statistics would have been reason enough to justify another column on this issue. However, the real reason we are revisiting the immigration topic is that the government is starting to take the right kind of action in this regard.

For more than three years now, one of my pet causes has been the need to attract, train and retain foreign students. Indeed, the Board of Trade published a study showing that 1) Montréal attracts fewer immigrants than Canada's other large cities but that 2) we attract more foreign students, and that 3) many of them – a third! – end up staying here once they graduate.

To fully understand what these facts mean, you need to know that when the study was conducted, no deliberate effort was being made to woo these 17,000-odd students into staying in Montréal after graduation. Quite the contrary: because they were on a student visa, those who wished to acquire residency after their studies often faced no shortage of red tape. For example, they had to leave the country to apply for immigration and before returning, had to wait a period of time that was long enough to discourage even the most determined applicant.

This situation has finally changed. Among the measures announced by Yolande James, Quebec's Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities, to help integrate immigrants into the workforce is a provision aimed precisely at cutting down the time it takes for a student to acquire permanent residency status. This will certainly go a long way to achieving one of my main goals: to see the number of students who remain in Montréal after graduation go from one out of three to two out of three, – and why not – even three out of three!

The measure concerning foreign students is not the only refreshing part of Minister James' strategy. It is also encouraging to see that we are starting to align the “economic discourse” on immigration – that is, its vital importance to Quebec's prosperity, with the way we manage this program.  Besides responding to essential human and social needs, immigration also contributes on the economic front and as such, it only makes sense to involve businesses in the process.

That's because no one understands manpower needs better than business leaders. So while the government should support and encourage companies to  hire immigrants to fulfill some of their labour needs, it also makes sense to invite them to partake in the immigrant selection process. And this is precisely what Minister James is proposing through “speed dating,” whereby employers meet briefly with potential immigrants.

Ultimately, everybody wins: Quebec's immigrants, who will be able to begin the integration process, secure in the knowledge that they have access to the labour market; businesses, which will have found one more way to meet their HR needs; and Quebec, because immigration is THE path to our future success.