Quebec suspends controversial immigration reform for foreign students, workers

QUEBEC — The Quebec government is ending a nightmarish week by suspending its proposed changes to a popular fast-track immigration program for foreign students and workers.

Premier Francois Legault fully backtracked Friday by pulling the modifications his immigration minister had made to the Quebec experience program, after furious criticism from across the province, including from the business and university sectors.

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

In 2018, there were 11,000 people admitted under the program.

At the beginning of the week, hundreds of foreign students and workers learned they could have found themselves forced to leave Quebec after Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette tightened the rules.

Whereas all programs were admissible in the past, the new rules would only include specific university and technical junior college programs in industries the government said were facing labour shortages.

That decision united all three opposition parties against the government and ignited a wave of criticism from across the province.

After teary pleas at the legislature from some of the students affected by the decision, Jolin-Barrette announced Wednesday that he would allow students already enrolled in the program to complete it under the old rules. But the changes would remain for new entrants.

Influential members of the business and university sectors continued to pester the premier about the issue Thursday. Legault pointed to the positive reviews his government’s plan received on his Facebook page as justification for the changes. He was ridiculed widely on social media for the comment.

On Friday night, Jolin-Barrette wrote on his Facebook page how “over the past few days, various economic and education stakeholders have raised questions” about the changes.

“To reassure all these stakeholders, the Government of Quebec announces the temporary suspension of modifications to the Quebec Experience Program.”

He said he would collaborate with stakeholders to come up with another series of proposals.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Nov. 8, 2019.

The Canadian Press

Quebec immigration

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