Thousands of people in China are trying to write their own ticket out of the country — in French.
Chinese desperate to emigrate have discovered a backdoor into Canada that involves applying for entry into the country’s francophone province of Quebec — as long as you have a good working knowledge of the local lingo.
So, while learning French as an additional language is losing ground in many parts of the world — even as Mandarin classes proliferate because of China’s rise on the international stage — many Chinese are busy learning how to say, Bonjour, je m’appelle Zhang.
Yin Shanshan said the French class she takes in the port city of Tianjin near Beijing even includes primers on Quebec’s history and its geography, including the names of suburbs around its biggest city, Montreal.
“My French class is a lot of fun,” the 25-year-old said. “So far, I can say ‘My name is ... I come from ... I live at ...’ and, getting straight to the business of settling down in the province: ‘I would like to rent a medium-sized, one-bedroom flat.’”
Despite China’s growing prosperity and clout, more and more of its citizens are rushing to the exits, eager to provide better education prospects for their children and escape from their country’s long-standing problems, including hazardous pollution and contaminated food.
Canada joins the US and Australia among the most favored destinations.
However, many governments are making it harder to emigrate by imposing new quotas, cutting the professions sought under skilled-worker programs and raising the amount of financial commitment needed for the exemptions granted to big-time investors.
That’s where Quebec comes in. The province selects its own immigrants and doesn’t have any cap or backlog of applicants like Canada’s national program does. However, it requires most immigrants to demonstrate their knowledge of French.
Immigration agencies in Beijing started pushing this program over the past year, telling people, “this is the only way out, there’s no other way,” Quebec-based immigration consultant Joyce Li said.
These transplants must commit to living in Quebec in their application, but, later on, they can take advantage of Canadian rights to move to Toronto or Vancouver, which most investor-emigrants do, she said.
“At the interview they make you sign the paper, but once in Canada the Charter of Rights lets you live anywhere,” she said. “Only about 10 percent of Chinese using the Quebec [investor] program come here or even less. You don’t see any of them. It’s too cold for many Chinese people. There’s no direct flight.”
Many Chinese have in the past sought to leverage their way into Canada with job skills, as family members of Chinese already there or with the country’s emigrant-investor program. However, a backlog of cases has prompted the federal government to halt many kinds of family sponsorship applications for two years and cap investor applicants at 700 per year.
So, Chinese are increasingly focusing on Quebec, said Zhao Yangyang, who works at immigration agency Beijing Royal Way Ahead Exit & Entry Service Co.
“That’s why many people, whether they are rich or skilled professionals, are trying hard to learn French,” she said.
Quebec Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil said the province welcomes the heightened interest from would-be immigrants.