Demonstrators rally against Quebec's updated immigration reforms

Protesters in Montreal and around the province gathered Saturday to denounce upcoming reforms to a Quebec program that fast-tracks immigration for foreign students and temporary workers.

Changes mark CAQ's 2nd attempt to adjust Quebec Experience Program

People hold up signs during a protest against changes to the Quebec experience program in Montreal, Saturday, June 27, 2020. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press )

Protesters in Montreal and around the province gathered Saturday to denounce upcoming reforms to a Quebec program that fast-tracks immigration for foreign students and temporary workers.

The reforms, announced in late May, mark the Coalition Avenir Québec government's second attempt to adjust the Quebec Experience Program after it backed down on a first set of changes last fall.

Those changes were criticized as disorganized and poorly thought out by opposition parties and decried as unfair by students and other members of the public. Simon Jolin-Barrette, the immigration minister at the time, eventually said the reforms had been a mistake.

On Saturday, demonstrators — who marched from Mont-Royal Park to Quebec Premier François Legault's office in downtown Montreal, as well as others in Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières and Rouyn-Noranda —  said the new reforms still compromise the future of international students and temporary workers.

"They are totally unjust and unfair to international students like me who just graduated," said Carla Trigoso, who is from Peru and studied sociology at McGill University. "There are no acquired rights for us. We are terribly, terribly disappointed with the changes in general."

Quebec Liberal Party MNA Kathleen Weil was one of several opposition members at the demonstration. She said the program, which she introduced as immigration minister in the Charest government, was the envy of many other jurisdictions.

"We created this rapid immigration route because we wanted to retain this talent," she said of the program, known by its French acronym PEQ. "We compete with the world to attract them. We're regressing with this reform. We're not looking at human beings with their full potential."

Quebec's new minister of immigration, Nadine Girault, who was appointed to the position on June 22, declined an interview request from Radio-Canada. Her office said it will take some time to properly take over the reform file.

The reforms are nonetheless expected to come into effect soon.

Among other things, the reforms add or increase work experience requirements for applicants. Foreign students, who previously did not need work experience in addition to completing their studies, now do: two years of full-time work for those with a professional diploma and one year for those who complete a university degree or technical diploma.

Organizer Thibault Camara says the reforms mean some temporary workers will no longer be a part of a future Quebec. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

The reforms allow the work experience to be unrelated to a field of study, but they exclude certain professions, such as waiter, cashier or agricultural worker.

"Now a diploma in Quebec is not enough to integrate someone," said Thibault Camara, an organizer with Quebec Is Us Too, one of the groups behind the demonstration.

Trigoso said meeting the work experience conditions would be exceptionally difficult "now that we're in the middle of an economic crisis and a world pandemic."

Temporary workers will have to work more to qualify. Until now, one year of work experience was required, but the reforms raise the requirement to the equivalent of three years of full-time work over 48 months.

Camara said his group was also concerned about certain jobs being removed from eligibility altogether.

"All the préposés and all the truck drivers, for example, they aren't part of the Quebec of tomorrow because of this reform," he said.

The reforms also impose new requirements around French-language knowledge and increase the processing time for applications from less than a month to six months. Opponents to the reforms want Quebec to maintain the shorter time for applicants who were already in the province.

With files from Verity Stevenson, Radio-Canada and The Canadian Press


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