Montreal

Court orders temporary halt to Quebec's plan to toss out 18,000 immigration applications

Several thousand skilled workers seeking to immigrate to Quebec, told earlier this month their applications were being scrapped, have been granted a temporary reprieve.

Immigration minister says Quebec will respect decision, but still intends to 'modernize immigration system'

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette "has to act in conformity with the law in place, not on the basis of proposed legislative modifications," a Quebec Superior Court judge said Monday. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Several thousand skilled workers seeking to immigrate to Quebec, told earlier this month their applications were being scrapped, have been granted a temporary reprieve.

A Superior Court judge issued a 10-day injunction Monday afternoon that forces the provincial Ministry of Immigration to resume processing their applications for a Quebec selection certificate.

The certificate is required for securing permanent residency from the federal government.

The injunction request, filed by an association of immigration lawyers, was the first legal test for a sweeping set of reforms proposed by provincial Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette.

In a brief statement released Monday evening, Jolin-Barrette said his government will respect the court's decision and will resume processing applications from skilled immigrants seeking a Quebec selection certificate.

"The government of Quebec's intention to change the immigration system through Bill 9 remains unchanged," the statement concluded.

In Bill 9, tabled earlier this month, Jolin-Barrette outlined plans to terminate more than 18,000 applications from skilled immigrants hoping to obtain a selection certificate. Including applicants' families, as many as 50,000 people would be affected.

Jolin-Barrette has said would-be immigrants will be invited to reapply under a new system, which will place more emphasis on regional labour market needs, French-language skills and Quebec values.

Even though the bill has yet to be voted on in the National Assembly, Jolin-Barrette ordered his ministry to immediately stop processing skilled-worker applications.

In its injunction request, the Quebec Immigration Lawyers Association argued that order was illegal and would cause irreparable harm to some 3,500 applicants already living in Quebec, either on student visas or temporary work visas.

Quebec's Ministry of Immigration countered that, given that the proposed legislation would terminate all pending applications anyway, it was more efficient to stop processing all claims as soon as the bill was tabled.

The injunction request was made in the name of Seeun Park, a trained nurse who has applied to settle in Quebec as a skilled worker. (Matthew Lapierre/CBC)

Justice Frédéric Bachand disagreed with the government, noting the current law says immigrants have the right to have their applications studied.

Quebec's immigration minister "has to act in conformity with the law in place, not on the basis of proposed legislative modifications," Bachand wrote in his decision.

"The court has declared very clearly that the minister has acted illegally," said Ho Sung Kim, the lawyer who represented the lead plaintiff in the case, Seeun Park, a South Korean nurse.

Before the injunction expires, Kim said the association of immigration lawyers will return to court to seek a longer injunction, one that will force the government to process applications until its new law goes into effect. 

Student visa due to expire

Without a selection certificate, Park is unlikely to qualify for permanent residency, her lawyers said in a brief to the court.

Park has been living here on a student visa, along with her husband and children, since 2017, studying to improve her level of fluency in French.

With her visa due to expire, she and her family would be unable to stay in the country to file a new application, her lawyers said.

"There is a strong possibility that she will be forced to abandon her life plans in Quebec, to move her family from the city and province where they feel at home and to leave the country," the brief said.

Mounting opposition from many fronts

Other aspects of the Coalition Avenir Québec government's Bill 9 have already attracted opposition from unions, business groups and activists.

The government's plan to accept 10,000 fewer immigrants this year has raised concerns from businesses already facing a labour shortage. The government's own figures show there are some 118,000 jobs going unfilled.

Two small demonstrations were held in Montreal over the weekend to protest against the reforms.

"We said from the outset this was a decision that was not humane, not economical, and today we learn it wasn't legal either," Liberal immigration critic Dominique Anglade said Monday in response to the injunction.

"The Quebec Superior Court is telling the minister to go back and do his work, that is to say, treat the 18,000 applications."

With files from Steve Rukavina

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