The Quebec government passed a contentious immigration bill in an early-morning vote of 62 to 42 on Sunday.
The new legislation gives the province’s immigration minister more authority over who receives permanent residency in the province.
It also allows the government to cancel roughly 18,000 immigration applications — some from people who have waited in limbo for years as their files languished under the old system — meaning those applicants will have to start the process over again.
“All their tests, all the paper work, all the fees that were paid, all the legal procedures that were paid, all the time, energy and investment that they put in their Quebec project is simply going down the drain,” said Guillaume Cliche-Rivard, president of the Quebec Association of Immigration Lawyers.
Including the applicants’ families, the fates of some 50,000 people wishing to emigrate to Quebec were at stake.
“Considering some of them have been waiting three, four, five years or more, this is absolutely devastating,” said Cliche-Rivard.
Critics say the Coalition Avenir Québec government has provided “no credible explanation” to eliminate the applications, but Premier François Legault said Saturday that Bill 9 is needed to better meet the needs of Quebec’s labour market.
The Fédération des Chambres de Commerce du Québec (FCCQ) welcomes the decision.
“Labour shortage is right now, so we’re happy it passed,” said FCCQ spokesperson Joanne Beauvais.
Cliche-Rivard thinks the government is shooting itself in the foot. “I don’t see how economically this is a strategic move,” he said.
Cliche-Rivard said he equally doesn’t see the humanity in the legislation. “I don’t see any rational,” he added.
Before breaking for the summer, the legislature is slated to continue sitting Sunday to debate Bill 21, a controversial secularism legislation that would ban public servants such as teachers, police officers, Crown prosecutors and prison guards from wearing religious symbols on the job.
— With files from The Canadian Press
WATCH: CAQ works furiously to pass two pieces of controversial legislation