Expats in Quebec have 6 months to learn French

Expat news
  • Quebec
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Published on 2022-06-22 at 10:00 by Mikki Beru
On May 24, the Quebec National Assembly adopted a new law promoting French as Quebec's official and common language. This quite controversial law has caused upheavals within the expat community and associations defending the rights of immigrants and refugees.

There's a rising fear of stigmatization in Quebec for all foreign nationals who speak poor French or do not speak it at all, especially English speakers. While it's unsure whether a State or province can actually set a maximum time limit for learning the official language, this new law is likely to have significant consequences on the labor market and immigration to Canada on a larger scale.

The controversial Bill 96

According to Coalition Avenir Québec (CAC), as published on its website, this new law is the greatest achievement for the French language in Quebec since the adoption of Bill 101 in 1977. On August 26, 1977, the Quebec National Assembly voted the Charter of the French language, also known as Bill 101. At the time, French was recognized as Quebec's official language of Quebec, despite the controversy. Forty-five years later, the debate is still lively, although the CAC, a coalition of nationalists founded by current Prime Minister François Legault, is already rejoicing.

However, three of the nine measures the law comprises seem to be a source of tension. These include the end of institutional bilingualism, making companies with more than 25 employees introduce French as their administrative language, and the 6 months delay for immigrants to learn French. Opponents see this as too much for a province that claims to be a land of immigrants. Even France is keener on the use of English to attract international talent. Some of its innovations are programs in English, developing public services in English, bilingual road signs in major cities, etc. President Macron himself is renowned for his repeated Anglicisms known as Franglais. Although criticized by many, linguists believe that this indicates social evolution, recalling that languages are alive and are likely to change with practice.

The major concern is, therefore, the 6-month delay for expats to learn the French language. The CAC points out on its website that there are exceptions to this rule but maintains that learning French is essential to ensure better comprehension when it comes to health, safety, or any other principle of natural justice.

How will this affect Quebec's labor market?

Quebec is expecting more than 100,000 immigrants this year. This should be a new record for this province, with a majority of permanent immigrants (50% of arrivals). Although the Covid pandemic caused a significant drop in the number of immigrants, an 80% rise has been recorded since 2017. Still, several sectors in Quebec are facing a labor shortage.

The Quebec government maintains that foreign talent is an asset for economic growth. But it believes that francization will be beneficial to the local labor market. In the wake of Bill 96, Jean Boulet, Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity, Minister of Immigration, Francisation and Integration, announced, on June 15, the launching of the "Francisation Québec" project. Francisation Québec is expected to be the official access point for all foreigners settling in Québec and will be responsible for promoting the French language at all levels. This program will come into effect on June 1, 2023.

But for expats having English or any other language as their mother tongue, this sounds like discrimination. Until now, CAC's attempts to reassure people have been vain. Does it mean that even people coming to work for international companies need to speak French? What about those who still cannot grasp the language after living in Quebec for a year? Will they still be able to find jobs, or will they be repatriated? So many questions remain unanswered.

Can these laws cause an expat exodus?

Linguists believe that imposing a deadline for learning a language does not make sense at all. Most immigrants are able to mumble a few common phrases after six months, but it takes a lot of time to master a foreign language. This law is, therefore, likely to unnecessarily pressurize newcomers who are already faced with the challenges of their new life abroad. Economists share similar views, hoping that Quebec will be able to resolve its identity issues and accept multiculturalism, considering the globalized economy.

The language issue has been tearing Canada and Quebec apart for many years, and it looks like Law 96 is only going to increase the existing tension. Quebec assures that the Canadian immigration policy has accelerated the decline of French in favor of English. So the aim of this law is to resolve what the CAC calls an "injustice". Quebec is also looking to have a greater influence on Canadian immigration policies. Meanwhile, the Canadian government advocates multiculturalism and respect for the two national languages, French and English. Stuck between Quebec and Canada, immigrants are sometimes disappointed with the reality of life. It seems that the land of immigrants also has its flaws, including certain forms of discrimination towards foreigners (lower salaries, diplomas not recognized at their fair value, etc.). International talents no longer hesitate to leave Canada. Still, it's too early to know the outcomes of Law 96.