The French are coming

Greater employment opportunities are bringing French youth to Canada
Alex Ballingall
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is greeted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy as he arrives to the G8 Summit in Deauville, France on Thursday, May 26, 2011. Following the G8 Harper will also visit Greece. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
The French are coming
Sean Kilpatrick/CP

Mathieu Lam was 23 when he decided to leave his home country of France in 2005 to work and travel in Canada. He was interested in the country’s reputation for natural beauty and its relatively high standard of living. Plus, he felt his prospects for employment at home were dismal.

Now, six years later, Lam is a permanent Canadian resident who runs a software development company in Toronto. He also operates a website called Programme Vacances Travail, which helps French youth who, like him, want to live and work abroad. “Canada has always been a country that attracted me,” he says in French, describing why he chose to come to Canada.

Lam’s not alone. Over the past decade, the number of French people coming to Canada has risen significantly. Permanent residents admitted from France jumped from 4,345 in 2000 to 6,930 in 2010. The increase in temporary workers is even more dramatic. In 2000, 5,932 temporary foreign workers entered Canada from France. By 2010, that number had risen to more than 17,000.

Many of these temporary workers came through a government program called International Experience Canada. The program allows more than 35,000 people between 18 and 35 from countries all over the world to come to Canada each year for work co-ops, internships, or on work-travel permits. France participates in the program through a 2004 youth exchange agreement with the Canadian government. Since 2007, the program has undergone a surge in popularity in France, with the yearly quota of pariticipants easily being filled. As a result, the number of spaces for France has doubled in three years. It now stands at 14,000.

Through his website, Lam helps other French youth apply for work-travel permits through the program and find housing in Canada. According to his numbers, 65 per cent of French people with these permits settle in Montreal, while 20 per cent choose to live in Toronto. Nancy Caron, spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, says the motivating factors behind this increase are complicated. “I don’t know if we can pinpoint it to just one thing,” she says, speculating that it could relate to Europe’s debt crisis and levels of unemployment.

As Lam sees it, it’s simple: Canada holds more opportunities for employment and a better life—the unemployment rate in France for March was 9.5 per cent. “Finding work in France is complicated for young people,” he says. “And even if we have work in France, we’re not paid very well.”