Friday, June 11, 2010

On international migration and Québec

Le Devoir, arguably Québec's leading newspaper of record, yesterday uploaded an article by Benoît Dubreuil, ("Impact de l'immigration - Dépasser la pensée magique", "The Impact of Immigration: Getting Past Magical Thinking") that deconstructed some of the myths behind immigration in Québec.

Immigration is a particularly controversial issue in Québec compared to the rest of Canada because of the intersection of language with immigration. Traditionally, for a variety of reasons including the homogeneity of the Francophone community and the superior economic weight of the English language, most immigrants to Québec assimilated into the Anglophone community. As the birth rate among francophones dropped while the levels of immigration remained high, the post-Second World War generation of Francophones feared that French might become a minority language, especially in Montréal. As a consequence, Québec's post-1960 reforms saw immigration- and language-related issues placed under the control of its provincial government, with the Canada-Quebec Accord giving Québec basically its own immigration policy and the erection of a whole complex system of educational and workplace policies aimed at recruiting immigrants particularly likely to assimilate to the Francophone community.

In its overall demographic profile, with its combination of an advanced economy and a relatively small population, Québec isn't wildly different from Sweden. (Wikipedia provides good overviews of Québec's issues in English and French, with a rapidly aging population and ongoing population decline in its peripheries.) Unlike Sweden, where (as I blogged last September) the lack of an obvious cultural hinterland makes finding immigrants difficult, Québec's wealth and use of the widespread French language lets it attract large numbers of immigrants: from Francophone Europe; from Francophone countries and territories, formerly Belgian or French, in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean (1% of Québec's population is of Haitian origin); and, from "Francotrope" countries, countries where the French language is widely spoken (Romania, Portugal) or countries where other Romance languages are spoken (Colombia, Brazil). Consequently, the list of the top sources of immigrants to Québec looks quite different from the list of the top sources of immigrants to Canada as a whole: consistently, China is the top source of immigrants but is very closely followed by France, followed by Morocco, Algeria, Romania, Haiti, and Lebanon, with Colombia along with Mexico and the Philippines also standing out. To the extent that Québec's government has been trying to use immigration to promote the use of the French language, anecdotal reports seem to suggest that it's working, with growing fluency in French (thanks in no small measure to mandatory French-medium education) and the gradual creation of what's basically a multicultural Francophone community. Thus one potential source of ethnic conflict was--painfully, slowly--dealt with.

Québec has had a fairly open immigration policy for the past decades. Although Québec's share of Canada's immigrant intake is well below its weight in the Canadian population, in absolute numbers, relative to the size of Québec's population, and relative to immigrant inflows in polities of comparable size, it's still signfiicant. This is often presented as a positive thing, as a phenomenon that rejuvenates aging populations and provides plenty of new workers and consumers. Dubreuil superbly points out the myths relating to immigration, and the new problems associated with it. Let me quote five paragraphs, translated thanks to Google Translate with a little help from me.

Landed immigrants in Québec are, on their arrival, younger (27 years) than the Québec average (40 years). One might think that more immigrants could significantly rejuvenate the population of Québec. Ten thousand more immigrants in a year, for example, reduces the average age of Quebec that year by 0.02 years. In a recent article in the Cahiers québécois de démographie, demographer William Marois has calculated that it would take 200,000 immigrants per year, four times more than now, to prevent the population of age 65 and over from exceeding 25% of the total population during the twenty-first century.

The low impact of immigration is explained by the amounts at stake: the 45,000 immigrants received each year is equivalent to about 0.6% of the population of Quebec. This is clearly insufficient to reverse the trends at work in 99.4% of the population. This does not mean that immigration has no impact on demography. On the contrary, it has a significant impact on the total size of the population. More people, however, does not allow itself to face the problem of aging. The latter is related to the age structure of the population, in turn only slightly affected by more immigrants.

Another misconception is that immigration helps to rejuvenate the population through higher fertility of immigrant women. While the fertility of immigrant women is slightly higher than that of native women, this gap is not likely to reverse demographic trends nationally. The demographer Ayéko Tossou assessed the fertility of immigrant women in Quebec had varied between 2.2 and 2.8 children per woman between 1976 and 1996. The difference with the fertility rate of native women is real, but immigrant women increase the fertility rate of Québec by only 0.1.

In recent years, the government insisted on the tremendous opportunities created on the labour market by the aging population. According to Emploi-Quebec, nearly 700,000 jobs to be filled in the coming years. These evaluations are frequently used to justify our policies and recruiting candidates for immigration. But immigration can really meet the needs of Quebec labor? This is doubtful.

First, it should be noted that immigration does not increase the supply of labor, it also increases demand. Immigrants are not only workers but also consumers. If, for example, immigration increases the population of Quebec by 10% in fifteen or twenty years, it may also increase the manpower needs by more or less 10% in business, health care, et cetera. The reasoning here is similar to that outlined in the case of demography. If immigration increases the total size of the labour market, its impact on the labor market structure is necessarily weak, because the number of landed immigrants is simply too low to reverse the trends in the rest of the population.

Dubreuil notes that for the past generation, the incomes of immigrant workers have declined sharply relative to their native-born counterparts in Québec as in Canada: "From 1980 to 2005, for example, the average income of recent immigrants with university degrees increased from $48,541 to $30,332. It is important to note that this decline occurred despite a higher employment rate among recent immigrants than before." In fact, there's reason to suspect that this problem may be worse in Québec than in Ontario, for whatever reason.

Immigration--like migration generally--obviously plays a role in economic development, and can easily play a positive role. It's just very, very important to keep track of the details. What's working? What isn't? What can be changed? What can't be changed? What, finally, is to be done?


Cicerone said...

Are there Figures for the net migration Quebec recieves from France?

Anonymous said...

It occurred to me that most countries/provinces generally place strict limits on immigration. It may be that the Francophone community would want to recruit French speaking immigrants regardless of job skills simply to bolster the size of the French speaking population. That would make Quebec an outlier in terms of immigration policy.

Anonymous said...

I think this analysis underestimates the problem. Outmigration has been a force in Michigan for years. The difficulty, from an unemployment perspective, is that those most employable are the first to leave. The remaining unemployed tend to be those least employable, under-educated, under-skilled, under-motivated.
Am I missing something?

Randy said...


The figures I've come across suggest that a bit under one hundred thousand people, roughly 1% of Québec`s population, are of French immigrant background. This is a considerable number, especially considering that until a couple of generations ago the immigration of French (and Belgian) was pretty low.


That sort of replacement migration doesn't seem to be popular. The stated rationale for encouraging immigration to Québec is economic, with its effects on keeping the number of Francophones up (as opposed to a perceived threat to the survival of French as a public language) being secondary. If that makes sense.