Immigration and naturalization processes have a positive impact on Canadian society and our economy. Newcomers and citizens alike contribute to the vitality of Canadian communities.
The Government places tremendous value on Canada's linguistic duality while also remaining committed to supporting the vitality and promotion of the French language in Quebec and across this great country.
The federal government works closely with Quebec, while respecting its vital role and jurisdiction over its immigration programs and settlement services within the province that maximize benefits for Quebec.
The Government is committed to equitable access to citizenship; protecting official language minority communities; and, reducing barriers to citizenship to allow new immigrants to fully participate in Canadian society.
Private Member’s Bill C-223 proposes to amend provisions of the Citizenship Act to require citizenship applicants residing in Quebec to demonstrate knowledge of the French language and pass the knowledge test on the rights, responsibilities and privileges of Canadian citizenship, in French.
The Bill also seeks to implement nationwide changes by raising the age range for applicants who are required to demonstrate language and knowledge capabilities to “18 years of age or more but less than 65 years of age” from the current 18 to 54 age requirement.
The age provision of the Act was last amended by the Government in 2017 through Bill C-6, which was intended to facilitate access to citizenship to those who might face greater challenges in meeting the language and knowledge requirements, making citizenship more accessible for our youngest and oldest populations.
The federal government continually seeks to reduce barriers and promote equitable access to Canadian citizenship across the country, which is key to full participation in Canada’s economy and society.
Quebec immigration and the importance of French in Quebec
While citizenship is exclusively a federal jurisdiction, immigration is shared with provinces and territories. In the case of Quebec, the Canada-Quebec Accord gives Quebec significant selection authority for most permanent residents.
As part of its selection authority, Quebec can include language requirements and select only those immigrants who meet a certain level of French proficiency.
For instance, the province requires principal applicants to demonstrate French proficiency in its Programme de l’expérience québécoise and, as of July 22, 2021, this requirement will also apply to spouses/partners.
In the context of the pandemic, Quebec has asked us to prioritize processing of applicants in that specific program and in specific professions. We have been pleased to accommodate their request and support Quebec’s economic and immigration goals.
Under the above-mentioned Accord, Quebec also has full responsibility for the settlement and integration of all permanent residents residing in the province, including francization services.
The federal government, in line with its commitment under the Accord, provides compensation to Quebec for settlement and integration services of these persons, including French language services. In 2019-2020, we provided $592M.
However, the granting of Canadian citizenship, including the requirements for obtaining citizenship, is wholly a federal jurisdiction and a national responsibility. This is also recognized within the Canada-Quebec Accord.
Supporting facts and figures
Language selection and acquisition in Quebec
Historically, Quebec admits a smaller percentage of allophone (no knowledge of English or French) immigrants than any other Canadian province. For example, of all adults granted permanent resident status between 2009 and 2012 who filed taxes in 2017 in Quebec, 73% had a knowledge of French or both English and French at admission; 15.9% had only a knowledge of English; and 11.1% had no knowledge of either official language. For the same period, the Canadian allophone average was 20.9% and as high as 30.2% in British Columbia.
Statistics demonstrate high rates of French acquisition over time for permanent residents remaining in Quebec. Census data demonstrates that 10 years after their arrival in Quebec, 90.5% of economic immigrants, 77.1% of those who have benefited from the family reunification program and 84.3% of refugees spoke French. Prospective citizens are eligible to apply for citizenship as early as three years after becoming permanent residents.
In 2019, Quebec invested $730M over five years to expand its settlement services, including to temporary foreign workers and international students, for whom no compensation under the Accord is provided by federal government to Quebec. These foreign nationals now have access to full-time or part-time French language training, to help them eventually qualify for permanent residence.
As mentioned above, Quebec receives a yearly federal transfer to provide settlement and integration services, including French language training, to permanent residents residing in Quebec. In 2019-2020, this federal transfer reached $592M.
Support for French speakers through Express Entry
As part of Express Entry, 5.7% of all invitations were sent to French speakers in September 2020. That share was a significant increase compared to the 4.6% in August. The cumulative share of invites issued to French speakers up to September 30, 2020, was 4.2%. The departmental commitment is to reach 4.4% Francophone immigration outside Quebec by 2023.
Citizenship uptake and citizenship knowledge test
Quebec had the highest naturalization rate of all provinces for the 2009-2012 cohort (63% vs 53% Canadian average).
For fiscal year 2018-2019, out of the 19,456 citizenship tests administered by the Department in Quebec, 28% (5,438) were in English and 72% (14,018) in French. For reference, in the same year, a total of 126,690 knowledge tests were conducted across the country including 110,612 (87%) in English and 16,088 (13%) in French.
An electronic version of the citizenship test was launched on November 26, 2020, with test takers being able to access the online exam for the first time on December 1, 2010.
E-testing and e-applications have been put in place for the Citizenship Program to address increasing backlogs due to Covid-19 closures and to create a more modern, effective and efficient process as part of the citizenship process transformation journey.
Canada-Quebec Accord: Roles and responsibilities
The Canada-Quebec Accord came into force in April 1991. Among other things, the objectives of the Accord is to preserve Quebec’s demographic weight within Canada and support the integration of immigrants, while respecting its distinct identity.
To this end, Quebec can receive a percentage of all immigrants in the permanent resident stream coming to Canada equal to the percentage of its demographic weight in Canada (currently 23%). Quebec has never taken advantage of this potential and, for 2021, its levels plan would have it receive 12% of all planned permanent resident stream arrivals into Canada.
Quebec selects economic immigrants and resettled refugees destined to that province and the federal government administers other permanent resident programs (family class, protected persons in Canada). Both governments, subject to situations described in the Accord, jointly administer the international student and temporary foreign worker programs.
The federal government remains responsible for determining the admissibility (for health, security, and criminality) of all newcomers to Quebec and for issuing their visas.
While the federal government is responsible for establishing annually the total number of immigrants for the country as a whole, it takes Quebec’s advice into consideration on the number of immigrants that it wishes to receive in all classes.
The Accord can only be modified with the agreement of both parties.
Citizenship Act requirements
Under the current Citizenship Act and its regulations, citizenship applicants aged 18 to 54 are required to have a language proficiency at the Canadian Language Benchmark 4 or Niveaux de compétence linguistique canadiens 4 in speaking and listening, regardless of the province or territory in which they are taking the test. This means that the required level of language ability is basic comprehension and expression, where an applicant can speak in short sentences and take part in routine conversations about everyday topics.
The language requirement under the Act and its regulations can be met by providing a copy of diploma or degree of studies undertaken in English or French, completing federally and certain provincially funded language training programs, providing a second language test, or other acceptable proof. There is a full list of acceptable language evidence which is communicated to applicants.
Also under the current Citizenship Act, adult applicants aged 18 to 54 are required to take a test composed of 20 multiple-choice questions to demonstrate their knowledge of Canada. This includes the knowledge of the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship.
Currently, all applicants required to demonstrate the knowledge requirement have the choice to take the test in either English or French. The questions for the test are based on the official citizenship study guide, Discover Canada: the Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship.
Bill C-223 Second Reading
In the House of Commons on Thursday November 19, 2020, Private Members’ Bill C-223, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (adequate knowledge of French in Quebec), sponsored by Bloc Québécois MP Sylvie Bérubé, (Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou) was debated for the first time at second reading.
The Conservative Party of Canada expressed that they support the principle of the Bill, but would move to make amendments at committee. Specific reference was made to amend the proposed age range in the Bill, which is18-64, to maintain the current age range in the Act which is 18-54, in order to continue to facilitate citizenship for older permanent residents who may face barriers. Notably, this is a departure from the previous Conservative government’s position, having changed the age range to 14-64 under Bill C-24, a change we thought important to correct during our last mandate.
The Bloc Québécois reiterated support for the Bill and revealed that the party has obtained a legal opinion which ensured the constitutionality of the Bill. The party’s position is clearly that, if the Government was serious about our commitment to protect the French language, then we would support this Bill.
The National Democratic Party did not signal support nor opposition to the Bill during Second Reading, however, on November 25, 2020, the House of Commons resolved into the Committee of the Whole for a take note debate on the status of the French language in Montréal. During deliberations, National Democratic Party MP Alexandre Boulerice signaled the Party’s likely opposition to Bill C-223, stating that it would be unfair to refugees and those seeking family reunification. This position is consistent with media reporting of MP Boulerice’s position on the Bill.
If adopted at Second Reading, Bill C-223 would be referred to the Standing Committee on Immigration and Citizenship (CIMM) for Committee Stage.
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