The effects of a change in the point system on immigration: evidence from the 2001 Quebec reform


In 2001, Quebec changed its point system, a system that selects immigrants based on specific observable characteristics. The explicit objective was to increase the number of French-speaking immigrants, with no deterioration in overall labor market performance. To achieve this, points for French and education (specifically bachelor’s degrees) were increased. In parallel, points for a subjective assessment of “adaptability” were decreased. In line with the initial objective, we find more French-speaking immigrants with bachelor’s degrees, and no worsening in labor market outcomes after the reform. These results hold in a difference-in-differences and triple differences analysis. This paper shows how point systems can be used to shape the immigrant workforce according to policy goals.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) 2013; Australian Bureau of Statistics 2013.

  2. 2.

    Plan Stratégique 2001–2004, Ministère des Relations avec les Citoyens et de l’Immigration.

  3. 3.

    Note that the economic class comprises different subcategories such as skilled worker class, business class and investor class. In this paper, we study the skilled worker point system. 89 % of the economic class’ principle applicants apply under the skilled workers program (Citizenship and Immigration Canada 2007).

  4. 4.

    The passing grade was 70 out of 100 between 1999 and 2002.

  5. 5.

    In 1991, the Canada-Quebec agreement granted QC the exclusive right to select its immigrants and design its own point system based essentially on the same major characteristics as the ones used in ROC (Kostov 2008).

  6. 6.

    We report the changes in the point system as a proportion of the passing grade to account for the changes in the passing grade. For single applicants in Quebec, the passing grade changed from 65 (out of 115 total points available) in 1996 to 60 (out of 106) in 2001. For married applicants, it changed from 70 (out of 132) to 68 (out of 123).

  7. 7.

    Plan Stratégique 2001–2004, Ministère des Relations avec les Citoyens et de l’Immigration.

  8. 8.

    In French: “hausser l’immigration francophone, tout en maintenant les exigences socio-économiques (qui favorisent l’intégration rapide au marché du travail)” , Plan Stratégique 2001–2004, Ministère des Relations avec les Citoyens et de l’Immigration.

  9. 9.

    We focus on the period 1999–2003 since there were no changes to point system in ROC over this period. In 1997–1998, ROC shifted from using the Canadian Classification Dictionary of Occupations (CCDO) to National Occupation Classification (NOC) in order to describe the different occupations. In 2002, ROC introduced the Immigration and Refugee Act (IRPA) which altered the point system. However, only 8 % of the federal skilled workers who immigrated to ROC in 2003 were assessed under the IRPA (Citizenship and immigration Canada 2010).

  10. 10.

    It is unclear whether immigrants who landed in 2001 went through the new point system, and we will thus analyze them separately.

  11. 11.

    In ROC, the point system does not automatically exclude applicants with less than a high school degree. It merely gives them zero points on the education category. However, getting zero points on education, and knowing at most one official language (only 2 % of immigrants to ROC with less than a high school degree speak the two official languages of Canada, 70 % speak only one language and the rest do not speak any of the official languages) leads to a grade less than the minimum passing grade in all possible scenarios. Thus, the restriction of the sample to individuals with less than a high school degree is valid for ROC.

  12. 12.

    In the data, we use the concept of “main household maintainer” , defined in the census as the person that contributes the most towards shelter expenses.

  13. 13.

    French only is a dichotomous variable equal to 1 if the immigrant is able to conduct a conversation in French but not in English.

  14. 14.

    Only 8 % of immigrants in 2003 came under the IRPA.

  15. 15.

    The full set of variables as well as the results for the other educational categories (diplomas and certificates below university, Master, Ph.D. and medical degrees) are presented in Table 7.

  16. 16.

    The full set of variables is reported in Table 8.

  17. 17.

    Proxied by age – years of education – 6.

  18. 18.

    The worse performance of bachelor’s degree holders is specific to immigrants. Bachelor’s degree holders who were born in QC fare better than high school or certificate holders (as can be seen in Table 11 in the 5).

  19. 19.

    Plan Stratégique 2001-2004, Ministère des Relations avec les Citoyens et de l’Immigration.


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The analysis presented in this paper was conducted at the Quebec Interuniversity Centre for Social Statistics (QICSS) which is part of the Canadian Research Data Centre Network (CRDCN). The services and activities provided by the QICSS are made possible by the financial or in-kind support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), Statistics Canada, the Fonds de recherche du Québec - Société et culture (FRQSC), the Fonds de recherche du Québec - Santé (FRQS) and the Quebec universities. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the CRDCN or its partners. The authors would like to thank two anonymous referees for their valuable comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Matthieu Chemin.

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Responsible editor: Klaus F. Zimmermann


Appendix 1: Adaptability

The “Ministere d’immigration et communautes culturelles” (MICC) specifies, in the “Guide des procedures d’immigration” rules upon which points should be granted to each category of the point system. The following is a detailed explanation of the adaptability criterion which is assessed through an interview.

  • Personal Qualities: assessment of the candidate’s:

    • Ability to prove his/her achievements and accomplishments during an interview

    • Knowledge of the difficulties of immigration project (financial, family, or professional)

    • Understanding of the values of QC society

    • Signing the ”Déclaration sur les valeurs communes de la sociét é québécoise”

    • Intention to learn French if he/she does not already know it.

  • Motivation: The steps taken by the applicant to facilitate socioeconomic integration:

    • His/Her efforts to get a job in QC (e.g., applying for jobs)

    • His/Her efforts to improve language proficiency in English or French

    • His/Her efforts to obtain a license to practice if he/she intends to exercise a regulated profession in QC

    • Other personal approaches showing efforts for integration (searching for a place to live, a school for children, etc..).

  • Knowledge of QC:

    • Knowledge of the labor market

    • Knowledge of the economic sector

    • Knowledge of the living conditions.

  • Visit to QC

    • Visit to QC before applying to immigration. Points are awarded depending on the duration and purpose of the visit.

  • Connection with a resident in QC:

    • The presence of a close family member holding the Canadian citizenship or permanent residency and residing in QC

Appendix : 2: Immigrants’ characteristics and labor market outcomes from 1999 until 2003

Fig. 2

Immigrants to QC from 1999 to 2003 by education level

Fig. 3

Percentage of immigrants with a bachelor’s degree in QC and ROC from 1999 to 2003

Fig. 4

Percentage of immigrants with only French knowledge in QC and ROC from 1999 to 2003

Fig. 5

Employment of immigrants to QC and ROC from 1999 to 2003

Fig. 6

Log Earnings of immigrants to QC and ROC from 1999 to 2003

Appendix 3: Detailed results of the effects of the 2001 QC reform

Table 7 Effect of the 2001 QC reform on immigrants’ education and language
Table 8 Effect of the 2001 QC reform on immigrants’ labor market outcomes

Appendix 4: Estimation without restricting the sample to immigrants who studied outside Canada

Table 9 Effect of the 2001 QC reform on immigrants’ education and language
Table 10 Effect of the 2001 QC reform on immigrants’ labor market outcomes

Appendix 5: Returns to education of natives in QC

Table 11 Returns to education for natives in QC

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Chemin, M., Sayour, N. The effects of a change in the point system on immigration: evidence from the 2001 Quebec reform. J Popul Econ 29, 1217–1247 (2016).

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  • Immigration
  • Point system
  • Labor market integration

JEL Classification

  • J61
  • J68