Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would like to begin by acknowledging the work of my colleague Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, on the official languages file. I would also like to acknowledge the tireless efforts of my colleague Serge Cormier, my parliamentary secretary, who is also a huge champion of francophone immigration.
I would also like to thank the committee for their hard work in preparing the report, “Toward a New Action Plan for Official Languages and Building New Momentum for Immigration in Francophone Minority Communities”.
The focus of my remarks today will be on the government response to that report and the ways that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, or IRCC, is working to improve immigration to francophone communities.
Our government recognizes that the bilingual nature of our country strengthens both our economy and society, and our government wants Canada's francophone communities to continue to thrive all across the country.
To that end, we believe immigration has an important role to play in the future of Canada's francophone minority communities.
That includes continued efforts to meet our target for francophone economic immigration outside of Quebec of 4% of economic immigrants by 2018.
Mr. Chairman, let me stop here and say that as a priority, not only do I seek to meet this goal but I'm also encouraging my department to exceed it. While we are not meeting that target currently, we have undertaken a number of initiatives to increase francophone immigration outside of Quebec.
For instance, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada regularly promotes francophone minority communities to French-speaking foreign nationals in Canada and abroad. Our missions encourage French-speaking foreign nationals interested in immigrating to Canada to consider francophone communities outside Quebec.
In June 2016, we also launched Mobilité francophone, a new stream in the international mobility program. This stream exempts employers from the labour market impact assessment process when they hire French-speaking workers from abroad on a temporary basis in managerial, professional, and skilled trade occupations to work in francophone communities outside of Quebec. This is a really important initiative.
This makes it easier for employers to efficiently recruit French-speaking foreign workers to highly skilled jobs on a temporary basis. We know that many successful permanent resident applicants start out as temporary workers in Canada. So, it is incumbent on employers, communities, and governments to work closely together to ensure that the new Mobilité francophone stream is used effectively.
The ultimate goal of this program is the retention of new French-speaking workers in francophone communities outside of Quebec and all over the country.
We know that students are another important group that may want to make the transition to permanent residency. We also know that the retention of these students would significantly help francophone communities across Canada. Indeed, graduates of colleges and universities in francophone communities have created networks, improved their language skills, and built community ties.
Temporary workers and students are just some of those who will benefit from the recent changes that we made to the express entry system, which can help French-speaking candidates increase their chances of being invited to apply. These changes include awarding additional points to certain former international students to Canada, rebalancing the system by reducing the number of points for a valid job offer, and introducing some exemptions from the required labour market impact assessment to support a job offer, including an exemption linked to Mobilité francophone work permits.
Moreover, as of June 6, we are awarding additional points to express entry applicants who have strong French language skills, and even more points to express entry applicants who have strong French language skills and some command of English.
In 2016, 2.9% of all immigrants admitted to Canada under express entry were French speakers.
Projections suggest that these changes will strongly benefit French-speaking immigration candidates who are well ranked in the express entry pool.
And I encourage employers in francophone communities to hire candidates who are in the pool to ensure that francophone candidates do move to their communities.
I'd also like to mention our Atlantic immigration pilot program. This is a three-year program that, while it's not specifically designed to attract French-speaking immigrants, has great potential to help francophone communities in Atlantic Canada attract newcomers. A distinguishing feature of this pilot is that it is the first immigration program in Canadian history to be led by employers. Employers, in partnership with federal, provincial, and municipal governments as well as immigrant settlement service providers, work hard to attract and retain newcomer employees and their families. They do so by getting the employer, for the first time, involved in the settlement of not only the skilled immigrants but also their families. Hopefully, this will lead to more retention of skilled immigrants in francophone communities in Atlantic Canada.
The Atlantic program offers priority processing for permanent resident applications and does not require employers to get an LMI assessment for jobs offered to skilled workers or international graduates under the new pilot programs. The employer helps skilled immigrants and their families to make a settlement plan, takes steps to retain the immigrants, and creates a welcoming environment for them. In exchange, the federal government exempts these employers from seeking a labour market impact assessment, which sometimes can be onerous and take a long time. This program draws on enhanced coordination to identify labour market needs and to endorse candidates who meet those needs. This is a program specifically designed to meet the demographic and labour market challenges of Atlantic Canada. It will also benefit Atlantic Canada's francophone communities.
Every principal applicant will arrive in Atlantic Canada with a job offer and an individualized settlement plan for themselves and their accompanying family members. Applicants will be connected with settlement services to support their successful integration and retention within Atlantic Canada. Again, while this is not specifically designed for French-speaking newcomers, it does present an opportunity for the Atlantic provinces to work with their employers to bring in and retain French-speaking newcomers.
This fall we plan to implement another change that will help us increase our promotional efforts by sending targeted messages to French-speaking candidates in the express entry pool. We are also exploring how we can share the profiles of these successful applicants with our provincial colleagues so that they can attract these individuals to vibrant and well-placed francophone communities under provincial jurisdiction. These messages would inform potential candidates of the possibility of living in a French community outside Quebec and the services available to them for their integration, settlement, and success in Canada. This last point is extremely important. In attracting more French-speaking newcomers to francophone communities, it is important for them to know that they will have the necessary supports to establish themselves. This is an area of settlement in which we rely strongly on partnerships and collaborations.
We can achieve this by building on the excellent work of the 14 francophone immigration networks, or Réseaux en immigration francophone, that receive funding from IRCC.
In collaboration with local and regional partners, the Réseaux en immigration francophone has mobilized community players and governments, leading to better services for French-speaking newcomers.
We are also testing a new pilot service called Arrimage francophone through our settlement program.
This service will help create strong ties between French-speaking immigrants and the local and regional francophone community.
This will be done either by providing direct services to French-speaking immigrants or by linking them to other integration services offered in the community.
This type of collaboration is increasingly important as we work to reach our targets.
I'd also like to mention that we're doing what we can to support anglophone communities in Quebec. Recently, parliamentary secretary Serge Cormier and I travelled to New Brunswick to take part in a historic meeting, the first meeting in Canadian history between francophone provincial and territorial immigration ministers, the federal Minister of Immigration, and the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
I had productive discussions with my provincial colleagues who are responsible for immigration and francophone issues.
I look forward to further discussions with them. I also look forward to continued engagement—