By Brian Dunn

There is increased global competition for the most skilled immigrants, resulting in a supply shortage which increases the cost of attracting the brightest and the best, according to Demetrios Papademetriou, co-founder and President of the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute. “The ultimate test for the most talented is a shift in thinking from whom should we choose to who should choose us, especially those who have two or three different offers” (from different countries), he said during a presentation to the International Economic Forum of the Americas in Montreal on June 13.

Quebec has to try harder than most jurisdictions to attract immigrants because of its relatively small population and its francophone makeup. But rather than compete with France, it has an advantage over its European counterpart which is going through a downward spiral of attracting immigrants.

The entire European Union is going through a bit of a slump due to its Blue Card and its “lowest common denominator” of new directives introduced on June 7 on minimum requirements for entry to the EU, according to Mr. Papademetriou. “Fewer people are choosing the EU. Only 15,000 gained entrance last year and most of those went to Germany. More are opting for places like Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The EU Blue Card is being replaced by individual state’s own policies.”

The immigration specialist praised Quebec’s own immigration policy with its hybrid system of granting temporary visas to see if immigrants want to stay and integrate into Quebec society and whether they are a good fit for their employers, before being granted permanent visas. “The more you invest early, the more successful you will be. It’s important to identify what skills gaps are missing early in a person’s training to increase the person’s value for employers and society in general. Even in government-heavy systems, employers must become more involved in selecting immigrants.”

Quebec’s immigration selection process also got high marks for its commitment of identifying and removing systematic barriers to enable immigrants to join the job market, said Mr. Papademetriou. The difference between a successful system and a very successful system has “curiosity” at the centre of the selection process, which involves flexibility and adaptability and the political will to change the system where necessary.

Quebec has reformed its immigration processes to meet growing competition for talent, according to Kathleen Weil, Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion, her title alone hinting of changes within her ministry. Even so, the unemployment rate among new arrivals is still too high even for the most qualified professionals. “Our government is therefore determined to better select and better integrate immigrants so we as a society can live better together.”

The old selection system based on points which took up to four years to analyse and process a case, has been replaced by a system based on a “declaration of interest” which reduces waiting times by selecting candidates with the best potential to integrate into Quebec society. Those who want to emigrate to Quebec register with Employment Quebec to list their qualifications. “Those who are best suited for the needs of the job market, have a valid job offer or have training in a desirable field, will be invited to submit a formal immigration request. We will invite employers to help in the selection process, based on regional needs,” said Ms. Weil.

Quebec is actively recruiting overseas, since the province’s universities cannot fulfill all the strategic positions. In the Montreal region, for example, more than one of every two aeronautic engineering jobs is filled by an immigrant, Ms. Weil pointed out. And the video game production sector employs 10,000 workers and is growing by 16 per cent a year, she added.

Over 42,000 foreign students study in Quebec each year and some are filling many of the those positions through, among other programs, the Programme de l’Expérience Québécoise, which fast-tracks students and temporary workers who have studied or worked in the province to become permanent residents. Since the program was introduced six years ago, 33,500 people have moved here.

Like other parts of Canada, Quebec continues to struggle to find work for immigrants that matches their qualifications, because their degrees are often not recognized or accepted by potential employers. “We intend to put an end to this waste of talent which is costing the country between $13 billion and $17 billion a year, according to the Conference Board of Canada. Our objective is to offer immigrants a clear path in terms of training and internships with the help of business groups and employers.”