Feds cut French employment program

The federal government has abolished a program that allowed Yukon’s francophone businesses to attract and retain foreign workers.

The federal government has abolished a program that allowed Yukon’s francophone businesses to attract and retain foreign workers.

The French Significant Benefit Program, closed on Sept. 30, made it easier for employers to recruit internationally without having to go through a lengthy labour market evaluation.

Under the program, foreign workers could stay in the Yukon permanently if they wanted to when their visas expired, based on the experience they’re acquired in Canada.

Without the program they would have to go back to their home countries to re-apply for another visa.

The Yukon’s francophone population numbers around 1,500 people and in the past 18 months, the benefit program attracted six new people to the territory.

It doesn’t sound like much but it’s a significant number, according to Frederic Nolet, economic development director at the Association franco-yukonnaise.

“About 15 per cent of the francophone community here was born outside of Canada, including four in my office alone,” he said.

“Just recently we went through a hiring process where we had two great candidates for a position but we couldn’t hire the best one because this program has been abolished.

“In the past when you found a francophone immigrant who could do the job, you could hire them with this program and it only took about two weeks to get a visa permit. That was it.”

In 2006, under the Strategic Plan to Foster Immigration to Francophone Minority Communities, the federal government set a target of having at least 4.4 per cent francophone immigration outside of Quebec. 

According to the 2011 census, francophones made up 4.3 per cent of the territory’s population.

That’s why one more person, or one less, makes a big difference, Nolet said. 

“Most of the francophone immigrants come here because they’ve done their research and it’s place they’re considering moving to,” he said.

“For at least half of the francophone immigrants who come here, it’s on a holiday. That’s when they realize they can raise their families in French and work in French.”

When they move to the Yukon they become active members of the francophone community, such as Christiane and Jean-Marc Champeval, who own the Takhini Lodge, he added. Francophone immigration outside of Quebec is a “huge challenge” and the benefit program was a valuable tool to attract francophone immigrants, Nolet said.

He believes the program was scrapped because Canada is about to overhaul its immigration system on Jan 1.

Nolet said he was surprised to hear of its demise, especially after hearing Canada’s immigration minister speak so highly about promoting francophone immigration only two days prior to the news.

“Our government is proud to promote francophone immigration to Canada, which will help to ensure our communities remain vibrant and prosperous,” said Chris Alexander, Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister on Sept. 9. 

“We will continue to work with our partners to attract francophone immigrants with the skills our labour market and economy needs.”

Nolet said he’s hoping the old program will be replaced.

“We don’t have any strategies or tools now to attract those people anymore,” he said.

“Six new people were added to the francophone community in the past 18 months because of that program. It’s tough to hire and retain people here.

“In the francophone community, just like in the anglophone community, there’s a lot of turnover.”

Canada welcomed 3,685 francophone minority immigrants in 2012, a four per cent increase over 2011, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Contact Myles Dolphin at myles@yukon-news.com