‘We have to be human with people’: Quebec backtracks on changes to popular immigration program

Click to play video 'Quebec government backtracks on changes to PEQ immigration program' Quebec government backtracks on changes to PEQ immigration program
WATCH: The CAQ is backtracking on changes it made to a popular immigration program that affects international students and temporary workers. The immigration minister now says students can be grandfathered in to the fast track program. As Raquel Fletcher report, it was the massive backlash that made the government change its mind

Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette is backtracking on certain modifications to the Quebec Experience Program, also known as the PEQ.

PEQ is a fast-track immigration program for students and skilled workers to obtain a Quebec Selection Certificate, which is the first step towards the goal of becoming a permanent resident.

READ MORE: Opposition parties demand Quebec government undo changes to immigration program

On Wednesday, the minister announced he would include a grandfather clause for people who were admissible to the program before the changes came into effect.

The move comes after public outcry over modifications that drastically limited who was eligible for the PEQ. Furthermore, the changes applied not only to new applicants but those already living and working in Quebec under the PEQ.

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Hundreds of foreign students admitted to the province under PEQ could have been forced to leave after the province last week tightened the rules for the program.

Prior to the reforms, all degrees were eligible but under the new regulations, the list was curtailed to seven doctorate programs, 24 masters, 65 bachelors and 59 collegiate diplomas.

Click to play video 'Quebec opposition parties build common front to denounce changes to student immigration program' Quebec opposition parties build common front to denounce changes to student immigration program
Quebec opposition parties build common front to denounce changes to student immigration program

As for temporary foreign workers, the new regulations stipulate they must hold a job appearing on a special list of “in-demand” jobs when they apply for permanent selection. The list, however, is subject to change.

On Tuesday, all three opposition parties, accompanied by students and workers, called on the government to immediately withdraw the new regulations, accusing Jolin-Barrette of failing to consult key stakeholders or consider how the changes would impact people.

Many students said the PEQ was part of the reason they chose to come to Quebec in the first place.

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READ MORE: Quebec business federation says province needs more immigrants to meet job needs

Both Premier François Legault and Jolin-Barrette said they were moved by the testimonials.

“I understand why Simon wanted to make the changes that are necessary, and we’ll do that in the future for future students. But we also have to be human with people who made decisions with former programs,” Legault said.

Jolin-Barrette, for his part, said the fact he included the grandfather clause shows he’s sensitive to the needs of those affected and is listening to them.

“I see all the reaction about people that were touched by that decision so I heard them,” he said.

However, both the premier and the immigration minister reiterated the need for the reform, saying the changes were necessary to meet the specific needs of Quebec’s labour market.

“It’s really a good reform,” Jolin-Barrette said. “There are needs on the Quebec market, and we have to fulfil that need. Immigration can be one of the solutions.”

READ MORE: Trudeau affirms Quebec’s right to ‘test’ new immigrants but won’t comment on the ‘values’ part

Not everyone, however, agrees it is a good reform.

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In an open letter, the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec (FCCQ) — the province’s largest network of business people — said the government’s reform would backfire.

According to the federation, the problem isn’t with the QEP, but with the government’s self-imposed limit of receiving 52,000 immigrants by 2022.

“We believe that imposing new rules on immigrants who are currently studying or working and want to stay in Quebec to work is a bad solution,” reads a statement in French.

The group concludes that the government should revise its targets and suggests relaxing the selection criteria.

“The current context of labor shortages, is sufficiently open to justify a revision of the maximum threshold of immigrants and a relaxation of the recruitment procedures for newcomers,” the federation says, adding all of Quebec will benefit from the contribution of young new Quebecers ready to integrate into the job market.