Proportion of French-speaking immigrants down in Quebec, census information exhibits

The proportion of immigrants who arrived in Quebec in recent years and have sufficient knowledge of French to conduct a conversation has been declining slightly for several years, according to data released Wednesday by Statistics Canada.

Their percentage among newcomers who settled in the province between 2016 and 2021 is 75.8 per cent, according to figures from the most recent census. This is a drop of about five percentage points from the same measure taken in 2016, for immigrants who arrived between 2011 and 2016.

In previous censuses, the proportion was measured at 80.7 per cent (2016), at 80.8 per cent (2011), and at 77.7 per cent (2006).

“These percentages include newcomers who can express themselves in both English and French. Many of them had a mother tongue other than French or English,” said Eric Caron-Malenfant, assistant director of Statistics Canada’s demography centre, in an interview.

This reality is the same in Canada as a whole, where 69.4 per cent of recent immigrants indicated in 2021 that they had another mother tongue. However, more than 60 per cent of respondents said they regularly spoke one or the other official language at home. Only 4.5 per cent reported speaking French regularly at home.

Another language indicator, first official language spoken, has also declined slightly in Quebec, noted Caron-Malenfant. In 2021, 54.5 per cent of recent immigrants had French as their only first official language, compared to 60.5 per cent in 2016. The proportion was 58.8 per cent in 2011 and 54.2 per cent in 2006, Statistics Canada said.

In 2021, 25.5 per cent had only English as their first official language spoken in Quebec and 14.7 per cent identified both English and French.

First official language spoken is determined by taking into account mother tongue, language spoken at home and knowledge of official languages.

“It’s not necessarily something that’s going to be fixed over time,” said the assistant director.

However, Statistics Canada noted in releasing its data Wednesday that “knowledge or predominant use of English or French generally orients immigrants to one or the other of Canada’s two official language communities in the public sphere, and even in the private sphere.”

The government agency expects data to be released in November on language in the workplace to provide a more complete picture of language integration.


In addition, the data released on Wednesday revealed that newcomers represent 23 per cent of the Canadian population, the highest proportion ever seen in the history of Confederation.

This means that nearly one in four people in Canada were either landed immigrants or permanent residents in 2021.

Statistics Canada said this new record makes Canada the G7 country with the highest proportion of immigrants in its population.

The government agency points out that more than half of recent arrivals are economic immigrants. Statistics Canada estimated that newcomers can fill labor shortages “in a number of sectors and regions across the country.”


In Quebec, economic immigration programs are the responsibility of the provincial government and 46.4 per cent of recent newcomers in 2021 had been admitted as skilled workers.

On the other hand, Statistics Canada noted that Montreal received a smaller share of immigration in 2021 (12.2 per cent, the year of the previous census). This is the largest decrease among the three largest Canadian urban centres.

More newcomers than before are settling outside the major urban centers, such as Ottawa and Gatineau, the statistics agency reported.

The share of recent immigrants choosing to settle in rural areas in Canada as a whole accounted for only 3.2 per cent.

More than 60 percent of newcomers admitted between 2016 and 2021 were born in Asia. The top country of origin for all newcomers is India. In 2016, the Philippines ranked first and now ranks second.

Hélène Maheux, senior analyst at Statistics Canada, noted that this ranking differs in Quebec, where the top countries of origin are France, Algeria and Syria. Immigrants born in African countries are also much more numerous than elsewhere in the country, they points out.

Statistics Canada estimated that about one-third of newcomers — both in Quebec and across the country — had prior experience before obtaining permanent resident status. They may, for example, have been temporary workers or foreign students.

“We noticed in studies that were done with other data than the census that this gave them a certain advantage. For example, we see that they have higher salaries than immigrants who don’t have this prior experience,” said Maheux.

To know how such a background in immigration can influence the learning of French and English in the long and short term, Caron-Malenfant said more in-depth analyzes would be necessary.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Oct. 26, 2022.

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