English-speaking female immigrants lacking functional knowledge of French who have recently arrived in Quebec: access to reception, settlement and integration services

Copies of the full report are available upon request to Research-Recherche@cic.gc.ca

Reference Number: R48-2014

Summary Report

December 2015

Researcher: Yasmina Chouakri

Questionnaires and translation: Francine Brassard, Fahimeh Ardekani, Yasmina Chouakri

Survey and agency calls: Francine Brassard, Fahimeh Ardekani, Yasmina Chouakri

Interviews: Fahimeh Ardekani, Yasmina Chouakri

Literature review: Yasmina Chouakri, Ludmia Garraud

Demographic and socio-economic profile: Mounia Chadi, Yasmina Chouakri


We set out to determine whether newly arrived English-speaking female immigrants lacking functional knowledge of French were benefitting adequately from the programs and services offered by TCRI member agencies, which fall under Quebec’s jurisdiction, but also services offered by other agencies in other sectors that are directly relevant to these women.

To do that, we looked at the services that TCRI member agencies offer that are considered “gateways” for newcomers. We looked at the immigrant and refugee reception, settlement, and integration sector, as well as the employability sector, in addition to other types of agencies. In this case, although there are many women’s organizations, they are not considered gateways for newcomers, with a few exceptions.Footnote 1

Linguistically, 86.21% of the surveyed TCRI member agencies that provide reception, settlement and integration services to newcomers also offered their services in English; 100% of the agencies that provide services to refugees said they did so as well; while with respect to employability, 33% said they did. Out of all the member agencies surveyed, 72.43% said they also provided their services in English.

The 33 English-speaking female immigrants interviewed in the cities of Montréal, Laval, Québec and Gatineau who still did not have functional knowledge of French, and who arrived in Quebec two years ago or less, came from diverse countries and communities, had different immigration statuses, and had various levels of English.

From 2004 to 2013, Quebec received 193,123 multilingual immigrant women (aged 15 or above). Of that number, 42,053 women, or 21.7% of all immigrant women (aged 15 or above), were admitted to Quebec based on their knowledge of English only.

Statistically, immigrant women who know English only do not have the same immigration statuses and immigrate for various reasons. In total, 19,087 or 12.09% of Anglophone women arrived in Quebec for economic immigration reasons; (stratum of 0 and more for a cohort of 242,282 multilingual female immigrants); 15,766 were sponsored, in other words, they arrived as members of the family class; and 5,941 of them, or 21% of the aforementioned cohort, were refugees.Footnote 2

Among immigrants with English as their FOLS,Footnote 3 26% of women and 31% of men have a university degree at the bachelor’s level and above.Footnote 4 Our sample exceeded that percentage, with 75.76% of the women interviewed having a university education. Comparatively, 75.76% of them were unemployed.

Among the women interviewed, the reasons for not starting or taking French courses were diverse. Some said it was for lack of availability, because they had just arrived, or because they were going back to school. For others, it did not seem important and they preferred to first look for a job, improve their English, or they thought that French was too hard. Some had a negative perception of francization or their immigration status did not allow them to access the francization program.

The women interviewed who had taken or were taking francization programs cited finding a job as one of the biggest challenges. The other problems cited were the feeling of being “ghettoized,” the lack of places to practise and perfect French, the problems caused by the diverse skill levels in the classes, and difficulty communicating in the host society.

Although the majority said they were satisfied with the services they received, they still faced linguistic and socio-economic challenges. In Montréal and Laval they emphasized obstacles to employment related to knowledge of French and…English for some, access to employability services, difficulty finding employment, professional disqualification, isolation and loss of self-esteem, lack of information, the impact of certain immigration statuses, lack of resources and the poor perception of immigrants.

For all the participants, economic challenges are tied to the obstacles to learning French or learning enough English for some, economic instability, access to employability services that are not always available in English, and the challenge of finding a job at the same time. Add to that other constraints such as professional disqualification, isolation and loss of self-esteem, lack of information and communication, immigration status affecting access to certain services, lack of resources and the poor perception of immigrants.

A number of positive experiences and best practices were cited as well, including with regard to social integration that some gain through the role of the community of origin, reception and openness, and support and help for families and children within the host society. The sense of security that comes with equal rights and the values of equality between women and men, the opportunity to learn by going back to school or learning French, self-confidence, discovering a new culture, and taking part in cultural activities were perceived both as avenues for personal development and an appreciated opportunity for choice and freedom.

From an economic standpoint, despite the challenges, the hope of finding a job after surmounting certain obstacles remains high, and the possibility of being part of a program to gain initial work experience, including outside one’s skillset, and integrating into a work environment gives even more hope.

This research reveals an undeniable fact: the double burden for women of having to learn French and find a job to lift themselves out of a precarious economic situation, combined with family responsibilities is a huge challenge. Finding a way to allow access to francization, while promoting access to employment or employability services, would make life easier for English-speaking female immigrants, but also female immigrants who speak neither English nor French.

As far as research into the Anglophone immigrant community in Quebec is concerned, the most common issues were related to the definition of an English-speaking community and its diversity, the specific needs related to aging, seniors and young people in these communities, but rarely women. However, some publications make the observation that not mastering French or English or mastering only one of the two languages can present obstacles to immigrant women in terms of their integration related to language and employment. It seems that there are some common elements, but more in-depth research might reveal the differences.

Our inquiry into the difficulties that newly arrived English-speaking female immigrants have finding work also made us wonder if this was due more to the fact that they were English-speaking or to the fact that they were newly arrived. This could be a topic of great interest and a subject of more in-depth research.

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