After widespread media coverage of Emilie Dubois’s plight became an international embarrassment for Quebec, the citizen of France was promised the immigration selection certificate she had originally been denied. Dubois had written a chapter of her doctoral thesis at Université Laval in English, leading bureaucrats initially to reject her application under the Quebec Experience Program (PEQ) on the absurd grounds that her French was not adequate.
Hers is not an isolated case. Something similar happened to me.
Raised bilingually in New Jersey with a deep love for La Belle Province and la langue de Molière, I moved to Montreal in 1999 and eventually collected nine years’ worth of post-graduate degrees from world-class French language universities (Université de Montréal and Sciences-Po Paris).
Yet, despite uncontestable French fluency, at the end of my PhD program in October 2016, Immigration Quebec rejected my PEQ application on the grounds that I could not prove I spoke French. According to PEQ rules, I had to demonstrate either three years of post-secondary French-language education or pass the language test. My two-year MA was eliminated in its entirety because I took a Spanish class to fulfill a foreign-language requirement. My seven years of doctoral studies, research, and teaching at UdeM was also completely disqualified because my dissertation was in English. The dissertation was in English because most of it had been accepted for publication by English-language journals — a sign of success for a PhD student, not incompetency. Although I passed the French-language test with flying colours, Immigration Québec also rejected the test results because of the earlier rejections of my MA and PhD diplomas.
So I left. I returned to work in the United States, where I fundraise for American organizations that seek funding from the Canadian government. Had I been allowed to stay, I imagine I would have put my skills and efforts toward investing those Canadian dollars in Canadian companies instead of exporting them.
I thank Quebec’s taxpayers for funding my studies and covering my health insurance for the years I spent living there, not to mention the exceptionally generous support I received from the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation that funded my PhD. My deepest wish upon graduating was to pay back this extraordinary investment in my education by becoming a contributing member of Quebec society.
But Quebec denied me the opportunity to repay my debt, live in the culture I admire and speak the language I love.
Expelling the most-highly trained and educated potential residents at the precise moment they become lucrative taxpayers makes no economic sense. It constitutes a double loss of both the initial investment in our education and the loss of future earnings just as they begin to flow in.
What’s going on? When I arrived for the first year of my PhD at Université de Montréal, I sat through a glowing session hosted on-campus by Immigration Québec describing the PEQ, a streamlined fast-track to a residency visa upon graduation. After investing the next seven years of my life in grooming for a career in Canadian academia or policy, I discovered it was false advertising. Quebec’s higher education institutions accept our dramatically higher tuition fees, and then Immigration Québec shows us the door.
Quebec’s universities benefit when they recruit high-paying international students. But international tuitions will dry up if the universities cannot demonstrate post-graduate employment for international students.
And, by in effect attacking the French-language character of the very institutions that defend and advance distinct Québécois contributions to humanity, Immigration Québec’s xenophobia will be the undoing of French language and culture in Quebec.
But at Immigration Québec, xenophobia seems to be stronger than the defence of French language and culture. It is stronger than economic self-interest.
And — against all common sense — bureaucracy around French-language requirements is being used to expel some of the most francophone candidates for immigration to Quebec.
Gabrielle Bardall, PhD, is now based in Washington D.C.