“Unemployment rates are higher for people who are unilingual,” says Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies. Despite the desire to demonstrate “that Quebec is a French-speaking place, the reality of day-to-day interaction trumps this message.”
A common criticism of immigration policies that, like Quebec’s, value language over skills is that they bring in people whose abilities do not match what the economy needs.
This was not the case for Ms. Sinai and Mr. Rajabian. He has just finished his master’s degree in construction management, and she in geology. With their background working in oil and gas in Iran, they are clearly well suited to Alberta, but Quebec has oil exploration of its own, and while the PQ’s concerns about hydraulic fracturing have put the brakes on the hunt for gas, the province’s “Plan Nord” push to tap its northern resources would put their skills at a premium.
And yet, Ms. Sinai says, “we sent résumés everywhere, but we couldn’t find any answer.”
Even for immigrants with the right skills, Quebec’s networking-oriented job market can be “more difficult to penetrate,” Mr. Jedwab says. “Very often, the hiring process is connected to who’s already in place to hire. And there’s a strong push to hire people that you know.”
Eric Charest, a professor at the National School of Public Administration in Montreal, figures both government and private-sector employers realize actively integrating immigrants is important, but “there is still a kind of reticence. When we speak of discrimination, people think about direct racism. … Discrimination is much more subtle.”
It shows up, he says, in the credentials employers recognize, the job training they provide, the level of acculturation they expect or simply in their subconscious idea of the ideal employee.
A study by University of Quebec at Montreal sociologist Paul Eid found that corporate recruiters given résumés identical in everything but name tended to pick people who seemed to be anglophone or francophone: They were 72-per-cent more likely to call “white” names over those that sounded African.
A similar study of employers in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, released last year by Metropolis British Columbia, found that anglophone-sounding names were 39 per cent more likely to get callbacks than Chinese or Indian names in Montreal, compared with 47 per cent in Toronto and 20 per cent in Vancouver.
Lina Donnard says she saw such bias first-hand last year while working for an information technology recruiting company. “If I had a French-Canadian or an African [candidate], they would definitely go with the French,” she says. “I think that’s terrible.”
Ms. Donnard arrived from Brazil three years ago. She says she loves Montreal, but has found her own job hunt demoralizing. She has a degree in international affairs, but wound up working for a stone and marble supplier and then the recruiting company. Both, she says, short-changed her on salary or benefit requirements.
She admits to being surprised she cannot use the expertise that got her into Quebec in the first place. Now a graduate student at the University of Montreal, she hopes the extra credential and networking opportunities will produce work in her field. “I thought it would be easier for me.”
Rogerio Brandao is more optimistic. Also from Brazil, he speaks four languages, has an MBA in foreign trade, and feels that getting to know the right people is all he needs to land the job of his dreams. So he plans to stick around.
“It has a lot to do with networking,” he says. “So someone has to go out and try to develop this network. … It’s not a lack of opportunities that I see.”
Prof. Charest says failing to use people such as Mr. Brandao to their full potential “becomes very, very problematic from an economic perspective.
“You have all these people who are underutilized … and the skills you chose them for, they lose their value over time.”
The most obvious costs are in Quebec’s expenditures in recruiting and selecting these immigrants, then integrating them into their new communities. The longer that integration takes, the more it costs Quebec’s relatively generous social safety net.