Probing Québec’s approach to highly educated adult immigrants

May 31, 2015

Researcher looks at why so many leave the province—and what it would take to get them to stay

OTTAWA, May 31, 2015 — A Montréal researcher has undertaken a project to help explain why highly educated adult immigrants to Québec all too often leave the province after a few years. Mehdi Babaei, a PhD student in educational studies at McGill University and himself a recent immigrant from Iran, hopes to design a new model for understanding the behaviour of highly educated immigrants, a model that would lead to more of them staying.

Since arriving in Québec three years ago, Babaei has become fascinated by the stories of educated immigrants like himself, and wants to understand how they created identities for themselves in the province and how they learned, or were learning, French if they didn’t already speak it. He discovered relatively little research had been done on highly educated adult immigrants to Québec, even though the province works hard to recruit them and even though it is known that a great many of them leave the province within a few years of arriving.

So he has begun to study the issue. Though his research is not yet finished, he will be speaking to it at the 2015 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences – to frame the issue, discuss his review of the literature and appeal for assistance. Babaei wants to understand how highly educated adult immigrants perceive their own language-learning experiences, and what problems they face in learning French in Québec. He says Québec devotes a lot of effort to getting immigrants to learn French, to the point of paying for months or even years of French language instruction. This is supposed to help immigrants enter the job market. But in his own encounters with other immigrants, Babaei says they tell him they are eager to get into the job market as soon as possible. Language instruction delays this.

One of the big issues highly educated immigrants face—other than language—is the fact that their credentials may not be recognized here. This hinders their ability to work. Babaei suggests that rather than sending these people to study French right off the bat, it might be better to enrol them in internships that allow them to enter the job market more quickly. They could learn French on the job and obtain the necessary credentials at the same time. That is the type of thing he wants to examine in his work – along with policies like interculturalism, Québec’s response to multiculturalism, a policy Babaei says is poorly defined.

Babaei says Québec wants immigrants to love the province, but he adds that you can’t force someone to love you – you’ve got to let it happen naturally. He hopes the model he eventually proposes will help create the right conditions for that to happen.

Mehdi Babaei will be presenting this research on June 1 at the 2015 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Ottawa. This presentation is called “Adult Immigrants, Identity, and Multilingualism: A Case of Quebec” and will take place at 3:00 pm on the University of Ottawa campus in the LMX building, room 107.

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