Five centuries after their forebears first set foot in North America, many in France are once again dreaming of a new life in Canada. And not just in Quebec.
Almost 2,000 would-be French immigrants lined up in Paris last November at the 10th edition of Destination Canada, a job fair organized by the Canadian embassy. More than 19,000 people applied, but only a few thousand could get in. The event is so popular that only those invited are given the address to prevent any spontaneous candidates from showing up at the door.
Each year, the lucky ones get access to more than 1,000 job offers, most of them permanent, in sectors such as IT, engineering, hotels and restaurants, childcare, health, transport and construction.
Nathalie Gautier, who took part in the 2010 program and eventually settled with her husband in Winnipeg in 2011, recommends it to anyone who wants to come to Canada. "Attending this event is a must if you really want to understand the economic dynamics of the country," she said in a phone interview.
These days, French candidates do not need a lot of convincing. With an unemployment rate at 10.5 per cent, and 25 per cent for people under 25, more and more of them are looking to leave the country and the sour mood of its people.
"I sense a general, contagious, fed-up attitude among the French who come on exploratory visits," said Ms. Gautier.
Francophone immigration to francophone communities outside Quebec is steadily increasing, says Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). More than 3,000 of them arrived in 2012, a four per cent increase over 2011.
This new wave of migration across the Atlantic is good news for francophone communities in Western Canada which have come to rely on a steady stream of immigrants to keep their demographic base and their French-language health, education and media services running.
Saskatchewan's francophone community association, the Assemblée Communautaire Fransaskoise, has taken part in every Paris job fair since 2004. For Ronald Labreque, deputy director, the fair is an effective way for them to "promote (the) community, attract French speakers and recruit qualified workers in sectors that face labour shortages," he said.
Canada is regularly presented as the new Eldorado in the French media, not just because unemployment is lower, but also because the French see it as a place where job mobility is higher and experience counts as much as a degree.
People from other French-speaking countries are also eager to move to Canada. Each year, job fairs also take place in Brussels, and since 2009, Tunis. In Tunisia, unemployment is 15.7 per cent. For those under 30 years old it is almost double that, and given the current economic situation of the country, they can only hope to find jobs overseas. With France, a traditional migration destination for Tunisians, putting more and more restrictions on immigration, Canada seems like an attractive option.
In Saskatchewan, many new francophone migrants who arrived in 2013 were Tunisians, Belgians, and even Moroccans and Mauritians, according to Mr. Labreque.
On arrival, Mr. Labreque's association helps with settlement and integration into the community. Saskatchewan's francophone community association also works closely with local businesses that hire francophone workers and provides a series of services such as information sessions and transportation to and from the workplace.
Workers recruited through Destination Canada also benefit from fast-tracked immigration procedures. "This is a real advantage for employers," said Mr. Labreque, "and this is why more and more businesses are interested in the scheme."
Some migrants, like the Gautiers, choose to set up their own business. In Manitoba, this option is taken up by only a few. "They represent only about five per cent of the migrants arriving through Destination Canada, but they invest about $2-million and employ about 40 people on average each year," said Joel Lemoine, from the Economic Development Council for Manitoba bilingual municipalities.
"One the biggest challenges for migrant entrepreneurs," he added, "is the language. Unlike in Quebec, English is the language of business here. So they have to be bilingual."
But for the Gautiers, Manitoba had several advantages. "We had access to a contact person right away here. It does not work this way if you are planning to migrate to Quebec," said Ms. Gautier. And the market was far more lucrative for the bakery they wanted to open. "We knew they had a shortage of French bakeries here, and there is much less competition with French shops than in Quebec," she explained.