Canada passes Bill C-13 to promote francophone immigration

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  • Canadian parliament
    Gary A Corcoran Arts /
Published on 2023-07-04 at 10:00 by Ameerah Arjanee
As an officially bilingual country, Canada must ensure that French doesn't fall behind English in all of its provinces, not just in Quebec. In June, the Canadian government adopted a new bill to foster the immigration of francophone expats as well as promote the use of French in federal institutions.

Bill C-13 brings a long overdue reform to the Official Languages Act

Some background information about language policy in the country is needed. Back in 1969, Canada passed the Official Languages Act. This federal statute, which applies to all provinces, was meant to redress historical discrimination against the French language and to protect French speakers from such discrimination in the future. The statute gave English and French equal status in the eyes of the government. 

Since then, English and French have had equal value in federal courts and other state institutions. All laws and regulations of the country must be published in both languages. The only province where French is the dominant language, Quebec, has its own provincial language policies that are separate from the Official Languages Act.

For years, there have been talks of modernizing the Official Languages Act so that it can be more adapted to a 21st-century context. In March 2022, MP Ginette Petitpas Taylor, who represents the province of New Brunswick and also acts as Minister of Official Languages, tabled Bill C-13 in parliament. After nearly a year of discussions, it was passed with a near-majority of votes on May 15. It was formally adopted on June 15 and received Royal Assent two weeks later.

The provisions of Bill C-13 can be summarized under these pillars:

  1. Encourage the immigration of French-speaking expats outside of Quebec, especially in provinces where it's a minority language. The IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) will have to award more points to French language skills in visa applications.
  2. Introduce the “Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act,” which enshrines the right to use French at work in Quebec and be served in that language by federally-regulated businesses in the province. This also applies to some other regions with a strong francophone presence, for instance, certain parts of New Brunswick.
  3. (Enhance the use of French in other legal, educational, work and medical institutions. Notably, the bill legislates that all Supreme Court judges from now on will have to be perfectly bilingual in English and French and not need an interpreter.

French-speaking expats are highly valued in the Canadian economy

There is a strong need for new French-speaking expats in Canada, especially outside of Quebec. French language skills are mandatory for all new immigrants in Quebec, but they are also extremely useful to land a residence permit and a job in other provinces. 

The national census shows that the percentage of French speakers outside of Quebec had dipped to a low 3.3% in 2021, but the Francophone Immigration Strategy managed to get that number up to 4.4% in 2023. The new Bill C-13 works hand-in-hand with the preexisting Francophone Immigration Strategy in offering francophone expats advantages when it comes to immigration and employment. 

What exactly does the French Immigration Strategy do? It organizes targeted recruitment campaigns in francophone countries, facilitates the retention of French-speaking expats by giving them settlement services (e.g., tailored employment and entrepreneurship advice), makes French language tests (TEF and TCF) more accessible, and makes it possible to earn up to 50 extra points in the Express Entry system for these French skills.

As for jobs, many public sector jobs in Canada require bilingualism – which can, strangely enough, put bilingual expats at an advantage next to monolingual local citizens. Administrative and customer service jobs requiring bilingual skills are often a foot in the door of the professional world for freshly-arrived francophone expats. 

Github's study “Bilingual Jobs Statistics and Trends 2023” reports that 30% of Canadian job postings show a preference for bilingual candidates. That is great news not only for the French speakers of Europe who want to immigrate but also for francophone Africans who are prospective expats. Africa is home to over half of the French speakers around the globe or about 167 million native French speakers.