Thank you, Madam Chair.
Madam Chair, members of the committee, thank you for inviting us to appear before you today.
My name is Yves‑Gérard Méhou‑Loko, and I am the vice-president of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, or FCFA for short. Joining me is Alain Dupuis, our director general.
The FCFA is the national voice of the 2.8 million members of Canada's French-speaking minority communities in nine provinces and three territories. For nearly five decades, the FCFA has been standing up for language rights and the French language. The FCFA also plays a leading role in immigration in French-speaking and Acadian communities.
In 2003, the government and francophone minority communities jointly set a 4.4% target for French-speaking immigrants to Canada outside Quebec by 2008. In 2006, however, the government announced that it was pushing the deadline 15 years into the future. One of the main reasons given by the government at the time was the considerable backlog of applications already in the system.
The government has never managed to make any significant progress towards the target, with francophone immigration stagnating below 2% for most of the past decade. Last year, the official languages commissioner estimated that francophone minority communities could have welcomed 76,000 more immigrants had the target been met as of 2008.
Express entry is the main tool for recruiting economic immigrants, but it wasn't designed to support francophone immigration. It's a general immigration program that was tweaked to take into account applicants' knowledge of French, but it has proven inadequate thus far.
At the bare minimum, express entry should include quotas for the selection of French-speaking immigrants. In addition, applications from French-speaking candidates should be assessed on their own, instead of being lumped together with general applications. Better still, the government should establish a separate economic immigration program tailored to the needs and realities of francophones.
Francophones are also being penalized for the lack of processing capacity for immigration applications in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in relation to family class and student visa applications. A single office, in Dakar, Senegal, handles the applications from 16 countries. Last week's census figures show just how serious the problem is. Take the top 20 countries of origin of French-speaking immigrants who settle outside Quebec. Only two of the countries served by the Dakar visa office are on that list, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon.
Given that sub-Saharan Africa is a massive pool of potential French-speaking immigrants, Canada can—and must—do a lot more. Additional offices are desperately needed in sub-Saharan Africa to process applications.
Canada has failed to reach its target for two decades, so 4.4% is no longer the right number. The demographic weight of Canada's francophone minority community will not be restored under that target.
In April, the FCFA called on the Government of Canada to adopt a catch‑up target. It would start at 12% beginning in 2024 and gradually increase to 20% by 2036. A measure like that would make it possible to repair the damage done by the stagnating level of francophone immigration since 2003, while putting communities on the path to growth.
Greater visa processing capacity in French-speaking countries, namely in sub-Saharan Africa, and the removal of visa barriers for international students are two essential steps to reach the catch‑up target.
Furthermore, specific francophone streams should be established for economic immigrants and family class immigrants, as well as for the provincial nominee programs and the refugee sponsorship support program.
Lastly, the government needs to support capacity building, so that communities can participate all along the francophone immigration continuum, from promotion and selection to settlement and integration.
Communities expect Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to take concrete steps and actions, so that Canada can fulfill its francophone immigration commitment, as set out in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Thank you for this opportunity.