Is Quebec’s immigration level too high?
Yesterday, a new book came out which states that Quebec is receiving too many immigrants per year (Québec cherche Québécois by Tania Longpré). This is what Équipe autonomiste has said from the start, not because we’re against immigrants, but because they must be successfully integrated, and this is impossible with such a high number. In the summer of 2012, some of our members had already written on the subject. The text is reproduced below.
Immigration: where are we going?
(Published in the “opinion” section of Le Soleil, July 21, 2012)
Written by Peter Frost and co-signed by Maryse Belley and Stéphan Pouleur
Last year, Quebec welcomed nearly 54,000 immigrants. This is a record. The last such peak was in 1956, when the Hungarian refugees arrived. But that surge lasted only a year. The current one is a decade-long trend.
Before the year 2000, we generally received between 20,000 and 30,000 immigrants annually. The intake was actually less in reality because many of them moved on to other provinces. With the new century, however, and especially since Jean Charest’s election, the level has steadily risen and will soon exceed 60,000. Meanwhile, immigrants are increasingly tending to stay here.
This is also a record in another sense. In relation to its total population, Quebec each year welcomes more immigrants than anywhere else in the world, including the United States. Yes, we’re that distinct.
Why this increase? One reason is the aging of the population and particularly the worsening dependency ratio. This is the balance between givers and receivers: on the one hand, those who give more to the government in taxes than they receive in services or benefits and, on the other hand, those who receive more from the government than they give. Net receivers include the elderly, who are more and more numerous, so we’re right to be concerned.
But immigration does very little to make the population younger. Suppose Quebec had not taken in a single immigrant from 1971 to 2006. In that final year, the average age of all Québécois would have been 41. In reality, it was 40.
Even this slight infusion of young blood has not improved the dependency ratio. Keep in mind that immigrants, like the elderly, use government assistance. Among those who came between 2001 and 2006, the unemployment rate is nearly four times higher than that of other Québécois. It remains almost twice as high even among immigrants who have been here since 1991-1995.
This is a reality we feel guilty about. Yet Quebec has been doing better than other immigrant-receiving countries. In Western Europe, immigrants have much higher unemployment rates. In the United States, their unemployment rate is lower, but so are their wages, with the result that they still give less to the government than they receive (via the Earned Income Credit and other low-income tax credits).
For this, there is no miracle solution. The problem isn’t just lack of familiarity with French. There is often a lack of familiarity with other areas of life. In short, all immigrants must go through a learning process during which they are less productive than other working people. This is the case with refugees who used to work with other family members according to a highly variable schedule. When they come here, they must get used to working 50 weeks per year according to a fixed schedule and in a large organization where social relationships are rather cold. The transition can be overwhelming.
If immigration does little to rejuvenate the population and even less to improve the dependency ratio, there remains another reason that people give: the need to fill labour shortages.
How valid is this reason? First, if an industry suffers from a labour shortage, the average wage should rise in relation to wages in other industries. Yet this market signal is largely absent where shortages are claimed to exist. For instance, the Conseil québécois du commerce de detail has been making this claim, even though wages have been rising a little more slowly in retail trade than in all other industries taken together. This is also the case with live-in caregivers and restaurant workers, whose employers are nonetheless calling for higher levels of immigration.
There are some fields of employment, like the mining industry for example, where wages have been rising for want of workers, but these are special cases. In addition, a labour shortage isn’t the end of the world. The effects can even be beneficial over the long term: better wages and working conditions, and higher productivity through automation, through elimination of badly paid jobs, and through streamlining of work processes. Let’s worry more about the opposite, i.e., a labour surplus.
So why must we increase immigration? Let’s first ask another question. Who would benefit? The answer isn’t difficult. Many interest groups have much to gain. Employers like to see job résumés pile up on their desks. Wholesalers and retailers want to see their market shares increase with no effort on their part. Realtors wish to see more homebuyers, as do land developers. These are the ones who lobby the hardest for population growth at any price. And this price is paid by all of us—by society as a whole.
1-Quebec - population – 8,000,000, - immigrants admitted (2011) – 54,000
2-United States - population - 314,000,000, - immigrants admitted (2010) – 1,043,000
3-France - population – 65,437,000, - immigrants admitted (2008) – 211,000
The United States has a population 39 times bigger than Quebec’s. If our level of immigration had been proportionately the same, we would have admitted fewer than 27,000 immigrants per year (instead of twice that number).
France has a population 8 times bigger than Quebec’s. If our level of immigration had been proportionately the same, we would have admitted fewer than 27,000 immigrants per year (instead of twice that number).
It may be just coincidence that the United States and France receive proportionately the same level of immigration. Nowhere in the world, however, does any country admit as many immigrants as does Quebec on a per capita basis.