Opposition parties at the National Assembly are slamming the Coaltion Avenir Québec (CAQ) government over recently announced changes to a popular immigration program geared toward international students and foreign workers.
The three parties stand united in their demand the government immediately withdraw the modifications.
The Quebec Experience Program, known also as the PEQ, is designed to encourage students and skilled workers to remain in the province. It’s a fast-track immigration program for those hoping to obtain a Quebec selection certificate in view of becoming a permanent resident.
The changes, which limit who is admissible, are also are retroactive.
“Before all diplomas where eligible,” said Liberal MNA Monsef Derraji. “Now the list is very limited. We’re talking seven doctorate programs, 24 masters, 65 bachelors and 59 collegiate diplomas.”
“The same is true for admissible jobs which went from 500 to 160 and can vary from region to region. So while you may be eligible and working in a certain region, if that job is no longer listed for that region you loose you eligibility,” Derraji explained.
All three parties accused Immigration Minister Simon-Jolin Barrette of failing to consult key stakeholders or to consider how the changes would impact people.
Jin Xing, was one of many people who stood beside opposition MNAs at a Tuesday morning press conference.
She came to Quebec from China three years ago. She and her husband bought a house and have worked really hard to learn French.
Unable to hold back tears, Xing said she doesn’t know what she’ll do now if the government doesn’t backtrack.
“You need to respect the contract,” she pleaded. “Now you just cancel the contract without listening to the people.”
Her story was echoed by many workers and students who say their lives are now upended.
Claire de Meuse Darteville, a student at the Université de Montreal, chose to leave her native France to start a new life in Quebec.
After three years, she says she feels more like a Quebecer than anything else, but in six months, her student permit will expire.
“I thought Quebec was my home.”
For their part, student association representatives argued the government was sending mixed messages.
“On the one hand they’re asking universities to recruit international students, but on the other hand they’re saying to the immigrant community that they’re not welcome here,”explained Philippe Lebel of the Union Étudiante du Québec.
He said out of 2,000 students admitted under PEQ at the Université de Montreal, only about 200 would be able to stay.
Meanwhile in Montreal, students at the Aviron Technical Institute held a protest Tuesday morning adding their voices to the chorus denouncing the government’s immigration policy.
“That law wants us to study here and go to make another life somewhere else,” said protester Samur Xham “It’s not fair, I am already working here but now I have to move.”
The immigration minister briefly spoke to reporters Tuesday afternoon.
Jolin-Barrette said that while he was concerned by the situation of the people affected by the changes, such as Jin Xing, he said they have access to other options including applying to the regular skilled worker program or obtaining a temporary work permit from the federal government.
Premier François Legault also defended the changes.
“What we’re saying today is we need to have more students and workers that our related with our needs and our companies,” he said. “We need more engineers, we need more people in information technology, we need more nurses so we want to concentrate on these students.”
He said the province already accepts a high number of immigrants and the priority is to end Quebec’s labour shortage.
“I would love to receive a million people, one million refugees, one million people with human problems in their country, but there’s a limit to the integration we can do, and on top of that we have a real urgency to find people in some sectors like computer business,” he said.