(Paris – 01/28/2007) Virginie and Ronnie’s accommodation is perched at the top of long narrow spiral staircases. The apartment, located in a popular area near Gare du Nord, is sloping and tiny, the paint is faded, mould has settled on the walls. Faced with such narrowness, the visitor can only be struck by three posters that the tenants have pinned to the walls. Like a breath of fresh air in this enclosed space, they illustrate the great outdoors of Quebec according to the seasons. “Make life in Quebec” is the slogan that sits at the centre of the poster. And for the young French couple, it’s a new mantra to escape the banality of their Parisian daily life.
She went to business school but could only find a small job as a hostess. He has a license of English but dreams above all of becoming an illustrator. They want to flee a country they deem to have no future. At least, for them, professionally. Next September, they will both fly to Montreal, the economic capital of Quebec, to try their luck, as many others have done before them, in French-speaking America. Their ticket is a one-way ticket: they hope to settle forever in the Canadian province that makes them dream. And without ever having set foot there.
Each year, 3,000 to 4,000 French people decide to like them to settle permanently in Quebec, according to the Quebec Department of Immigration. To this figure, we can add 7000 French people arriving with a temporary visa, and more than 5000 with a student visa. But the Quebec dream sometimes turns into a nightmare since hundreds of them return to France each year, wiping out the failure of immigration.
A real debate is raging as to the exact number of returns. The Québec Government Office in France, the institution responsible for recruiting immigrants, maintains that 18 to 20% of French people will return within five years of their immigration. However the demographer Marc Termotte judges these figures very inferior to reality. “One in two French who decides to settle permanently in Quebec will return to France within eight years of immigration,” says the professor at the University of Montreal, who based his study on the 1996 and 2001 censuses. If the Quebec Delegation arrives at a lower return rate, it is because it is based only on the change of address of the health insurance cardholders. “Those who leave Quebec must in principle hand over their card. Rare are those who do. Even my son, who returned to Europe this year, forgot to do it! ”
Virginie and Ronnie know this debate around the number of returns, and if they know that, regardless of the calculation method, it is relatively high, this does not succeed in discouraging them in their immigration plan. “When we are gone, we will finally be released, finally goods. In France, there is always someone to get in the way. This depressing living environment, we can’t take it anymore! Sighs Virginie, 24. And like all those who leave in the hope of never coming back, she is sure that Ronnie and she will be part of the half of French people who successfully immigrate.
Montreal is the first non-European destination for French expatriates. There are more than 40,000 French people living in Montreal (out of a total population of around 2 million inhabitants) registered in the register of the Maison des Français abroad which is attached to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is twice as much as in New York or Los Angeles, and almost four times more than Sydney, although these three cities also appear in the list of cities most appreciated by the French.
In addition, the number of French settlers in Montreal is clearly increasing. Still using figures from the Maison des Français abroad, we can see that the number of French people in Montreal jumped 47% from 2000 to 2004. In comparison, the number of French people in New York grew by only 8, 8% for the same years.
Valérie Lion, the journalist for the French weekly L’Express, dwelled on Franco-Quebecois relations in her book Irréductibles Québécois. She explains the attraction of the French for the province in this way: “Now a new generation of French emigrants is attempting the adventure. Often a personal adventure, for love of Quebec or a Quebecer, or simply for realism: Quebec indeed offers a space in French where everything is still possible and where immigrants are welcome. It also brings a breath of fresh air to citizens disappointed by the blockages and failures of French society. “(Irréductibles Québécois, éditions des Syrtes, 2004, p. 21.) Even the former French Prime Minister Alain Juppé chose to go there for a year in 2005-2006 …
A refuge website for disillusioned people
But if Quebec is perceived so positively, why do so many French people leave Quebec after trying to settle there? The Internet is rich in clues that allow us to advance answers to this question. On the immigrer-contact.com site, which has more than 6000 active members, there are countless testimonies from French people who did not find what they were looking for by choosing Quebec. And who are very bitter. Quebec is described there as a matriarchal society (“Feministan”) with poor infrastructure (“Kébekistan”). Quebecers are portrayed as “intolerant racists” who speak an outdated and incorrect language and indulge in their ignorance, suffering from an inferiority complex that pushes them to hate “the cursed French”.
But under these virulent comments bordering on racism hides a real phenomenon: a large part of the French arrived in Quebec are disappointed, ill at ease and wish to take the way back. The founder and administrator of this site is called Yann Takvorian. He has lived in Quebec for 11 years and has managed immigrer-contact.com for 3 years. He is not surprised by its popularity: “Those who participate in the forum are disillusioned with Quebec or already on their way back. They can really tell what is wrong with Quebec when they are generally censored on other sites. Immigrating-contact is the black sheep site which finally gives everyone the opportunity to express themselves ”.
Jobs, the nerve of war
Françoise, in her fifties, is an active member of immigrant-contact. In 2005, she moved with her husband to Quebec City. “It was an old dream to go and live in Quebec. I had stayed there a few times, but it was not enough to take the temperature of what we were going to experience afterwards. We saw Canada in a very romantic way. ”
The trouble really started when, arriving in Quebec, she started looking for a job. While she was a sales trainer and manager in France, she could only find a job as a simple saleswoman in Quebec. “You absolutely have to have Quebec experience to hope to find an interesting job there.” You do not know the number of competent foreign people in Quebec who cannot find work. ” And since employment is for her “the nerve of the war”, she and her husband chose to take the way back to their native Aquitaine after fifteen months of life in Quebec. “We had sold everything in France before leaving: house, car … and we bought it all in Quebec. When we returned to France, we sold at a discount. We have lost so much money. ”
The role of the Delegation: prevent or promote?
For the immigrant-contact Internet users, it was the role of Délégation du Québec en France, responsible for recruiting future immigrants, to warn them of the difficulty of finding a job once they landed in Québec. Yann Takvorian, the founder of the site, declares that the Delegation is even guilty according to him of having outright misled the candidates. “We really feel deceived by the Delegation which served us a fallacious marketing argument. It is a real scam. ”
He assures, among other things, that he was not informed of the poor quality of the health system. “The only medical resemblance between Quebec and France is that we have a health card there. In Quebec, you sometimes have to wait all day to see a doctor. Patients are even waiting in hospital corridors on stretchers because the health system is sorely lacking in resources, ”said Yann Takvorian.
The school system is also a black spot, according to him. “The Delegation assures that the French and Quebec systems are equivalent, but I have never heard a single French parent say that Quebec schools were good! The children learn practically nothing and the teachers make mistakes in French. ”
He also judges the job market resistant to immigrants. “The French cannot find the same level of employment in Quebec as they had previously in France. There is no recognition of diplomas and we often have to change sectors. ”
Another major dissatisfaction related to the employment of immigrants in Quebec lies in the difficulty of gaining access to professional orders. The province has a large number of protected or regulated professions: doctors, engineers, dentists, accountants, architects, etc. To integrate these orders, some French people who practiced the profession in their country of origin must take exams again, sometimes even take courses again, or even complete training.
At the Quebec Immigration Office, however, there is a strong denial of false representation. During the information meetings on Quebec, we also insist on the issue of professional orders. Ève Boulez, head of promotion at the Immigration Office and host of information meetings, explains that an appendix must even be completed by people whose profession is regulated in Quebec. “They must sign this appendix to attest that they know that there is indeed a professional order in Quebec for the job they already hold and that they will have to, depending on the type of work, take various steps to to access. This appendix is compulsory: the visa is not issued if it is not completed. ”
For Ms. Boulez, the criticisms of some French people towards the Delegation, which they do not consider frank enough with the candidates, are explained by the fact that many idealized the province before their departure. “When you have a project you care about, you hear what you want to hear. It’s human. And then, the Delegation only meets 25% of French applicants for immigration. ”
Furthermore, according to his figures, as few as 6% of French immigrants in Quebec are unemployed. This is less than the Canadian national average, which is 8%, and even less than the French average of 9%. “We always hear more those who complain than those for whom everything is going well in Quebec. They are the ones who speak the loudest, ”says Ms. Boulez. Besides, employment would not be, according to data from the Delegation, one of the major reasons for the return. The desire to find his family in France would thus be the first cause of return, followed by the difficulty of adaptation of the spouse and, finally, yes, the harshness of winter.
Never so well that among his own
It is the family that brought Johanna back, who has lived in Quebec for almost seven years. “The distance from the family is really what I found the hardest in Quebec. I also had to completely rebuild my life, my address book and make friends on whom I could call at 2 a.m., if necessary. The 29-year-old toxicologist has returned to Paris since last November. She quickly found a job in an environmental institute but is still looking for accommodation. Last year, she completed her doctoral thesis, left a Quebec spouse and thus found herself at a turning point in her life. “Before returning to France, I made a list of pros and cons. There were simply more elements in favour of my return to France. But despite this decision, I know that I will always be divided between Quebec and France. I do not exclude one day returning to settle in Quebec ”.
Johanna sees her stay in Quebec as a youth experience abroad. His return to France