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French national denied Quebec residency over language proficiency

National Assembly of Quebec in Quebec City, File photo.
National Assembly of Quebec in Quebec City, File photo. Lars Hagberg / The Canadian Press

There’s little doubt in Emilie Dubois’ own mind about her ability to speak French — after all, it’s her native tongue.

But the Quebec government doesn’t see Dubois’ bona fides the way she does, having denied her permanent residency in the province because part of her PhD thesis was written in English.

“The first letter said you are not proving you know how to speak French because your thesis is considered to be written in English,” Dubois, a Quebec City-based scientific graphic designer, said in an interview.

Dubois, who completed her doctorate at Universite Laval in January 2018, said one out of five chapters of her thesis on cellular and molecular biology was in English because it was based on a published English article in a scientific journal.

That was enough for the government to rule her level of French wasn’t sufficient to obtain a selection certificate under the Quebec experience program, noting in a letter she didn’t complete her study entirely in French.

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In place since 2010, the popular program allows foreign students with a qualifying diploma or people with work experience in the province to receive an expedited selection certificate, fast-tracking residency and making it possible to stay.

Flabbergasted by the response, Dubois contacted the government herself.

“I told them, ‘I don’t understand, I’m French, I’ve been speaking French since my childhood … so it’s nonsense you’re telling me I don’t speak French,” she said.

Dubois said she did a French test recognized by the ministry and sent the results by registered mail.

But later in the spring, she got a letter from the government maintaining its decision.

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Dubois, 31, has lived in Quebec for the past eight years, completing her PhD in January 2018.

She came from France in February 2012 to do her doctorate at the university in Quebec City.

“I came with a rough idea. I didn’t know what I wanted to do so it was very much under construction as a life project,” Dubois said. “It came together as I went.”

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Dubois said she hasn’t received any clear responses since her story was made public this week, first reported by Radio-Canada.

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Her local member of the national assembly, Catherine Dorion, said she’d help Dubois get some clear answers. The member of the Quebec solidaire said she had been in contact with someone from the Coalition Avenir Quebec government.

Self-employed with her own company working freelance, Dubois said she’s considered finding a job with a company in order to reapply, but hasn’t found one that fits the criteria set out by the province’s Immigration Department.

Her three-year work permit expires in March 2021.

“So I still have time, that’s why I’m trying to look at my options,” Dubois said.

In response to criticism on social media about the decision, a member of the Coalition Avenir Quebec government tweeted they were examining the case.

Dubois wants to stay in Quebec City where she has a partner who has received the legal right to stay — along with a Quebec-born pup.

“I’ll trust in humanity and hope it’ll be resolved,” Dubois said.

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“I keep the faith because I really love my job and I’m convinced it’ll be resolved.”