A catchy government sign on the corner of Parc and Milton speaks straight to graduating students: “Real Montrealers stay in Montreal.”
The sign reflects the provincial government’s renewed efforts to keep graduating university students in Quebec – particularly international ones – to prevent brain drain and keep the job market afloat.
Mayor of Ville-Marie Borough, Benoît Labonté, addressed SSMU’s council last Thursday and emphasized that Montreal must attract out-of-town graduates from the City’s universities.
“Our real challenge, which will measure our progression, will be our capacity to attract, maintain, and integrate talent into Montreal,” Labonté said. “If we can’t, it’s over, we’re cooked, we’re finished.”
This semester, McGill hosted three popular informational presentations for international students who are considering staying in Quebec after graduation. These 75-person sessions – run by the Ministre de l’Immigration et des Communautés Culturelles – were filled to capacity, forcing some interested students onto a waiting list.
According to Rhonda Turner, McGill Advisor to International Students, these sessions are part of a government effort to attract qualified immigrants to work in Canada.
“It’s made very clear in the presentation that they want you to stay in Quebec,” she said.
International students, who account for almost 19 per cent of McGill’s student body, can either apply for permanent residency if they wish to remain in Quebec – a process that generally takes six to nine months – or apply for a Post-Diploma Work Permit – a special visa introduced in April 2008 that allows recent graduates to stay in Canada for up to three years without a specific job offer.
“It used to be this vicious cycle where companies wouldn’t want to hire you without a work permit, and the government of Canada wouldn’t give you a work permit without a job offer,” said Sam Imberman, an American who decided to stay in Montreal after graduating from McGill in 2008 with a B.A. in Geography.
Imberman currently works as a marketing assistant under this new permit as he awaits the status of his permanent residency application, which is now a common practice, according to Turner.
Caroline Leamon, an American who graduated in winter 2009 with a B.A. in Cultural Studies and a minor in French, rethought her decision to stay in Montreal after attending one of the information sessions.
“It looked like quite the undertaking,” she said. “There are a lot of processing fees, and it comes out to over $1,000 in the end…. Hearing all of the steps and how expensive it was really made me think, okay, this would be a big commitment settling in Montreal, and do I really want to be here for the next three years at such a cost? And that’s what really got me thinking, maybe not so much.”
Securing permanent residency is a complicated process in Quebec that entails an elaborate point-system, a mountain of paperwork, and often a series of interviews assessing applicants’ French and English language abilities and personal characteristics.
Many applicants find the point-system to be the most confusing part of the process, according to Turner.
Single candidates must obtain 60 points of a possible 96, and those applying with spouses need 68 of a possible 113. Most points are awarded to applicants who are under 35, have advanced degrees, and are highly proficient in French. The scale also rewards those whose could fill positions in industries that are currently experiencing shortages in the province, including the sciences, mathematics, and engineering.
A U3 who is in Electrical Engineering, hopes to return to Quebec after he fulfills a two-to-three-year obligation to a Saudi Arabian oil company that has paid his tuition at McGill.
“Most [international students in engineering], I’d say 70-75 per cent, would want to work here,” he said. “The diversity of people is very welcoming for people like me – immigrants – and the work environment is appealing. Flat organization, less bureaucracy, less hierarchy – that’s something very attractive for engineering firms, at least.”
While he only possesses a basic knowledge of French, he said that he plans to learn the language, especially if he decides to pursue citizenship.
But for some, the cost outweighs the benefit. Faye Hughes, an American U3 IDS and Hispanic Languages major, said that she plans leave Montreal largely because of her limited French. “I’ve had trouble finding an off-campus job,” she said. “Some of the on-campus jobs you have to speak French, and I’ve really felt limited by that. While I’d like to learn French at some point, languages are hard. I’d rather just find somewhere where my Spanish is useful.”
For those who are fluent in French, the appeal of Montreal as a city can be motivation enough to get through the paperwork.
“It’s a good starter city,” Imberman said. “It’s good for people in this age, in this stage of life. Sure, I could move to New York at this point, but where would I live, and how long would my commute be, and could I even afford to go out and drink? It’s true, you’re paid less here, but it takes a lot less to live.”
– with files from Shannon Kiely