CBC Investigates

Montreal man's life derailed after mix-up on French test result

Francis Paganini had to give up his job and put his life on hold after being told he'd failed a French-language test which all temporary foreign workers must pass before getting permanent residency in Quebec, when in fact, he had not.

Quebec Immigration Ministry says error that cost Francis Paganini his job was 1st of its kind in 10 years

Francis Paganini wanted to fast-track his application for permanent residency in Quebec. Instead, he says the process has been nothing but a headache that left him jobless for months. (CBC)

A Montreal man had to give up his job and put his life on hold after being told he'd failed a French-language test he had to pass in order to get permanent residency in Quebec, when in fact, he had not.

Confusion around his performance on the test, known by its French acronym TEFAQ, has been hanging over Francis Paganini's head for the past year.

Last fall, Paganini, who has dual Italian and British citizenship, passed the test on his first attempt.

However, Quebec's Ministry of Immigration was suspicious of his mark.

It asked that the spoken part of his test be re-evaluated.

Paganini's grade was changed, categorizing him as someone who can only manage simple conversations, rather than as someone who speaks French with ease.

The lower grade left the video-game industry worker ineligible for the Quebec Experience Program, which fast-tracks temporary foreign workers for the Quebec selection certificate (CSQ).

Paganini needed to obtain that certificate before he could apply to become a permanent resident of Canada.

Delays, confusion

Paganini was furious. He had no idea what triggered the decision to review his first evaluation, and no explanation was ever given.

Worse, the review of his mark by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCIP) in Paris, France, which administers the exam for Quebec's Immigration Ministry, took months.

The delay left Paganini with little time to study to improve his mark before his work permit ran out.

After complaining to both the Quebec ombudsman and the Paris-based agency, Paganini was given a chance to retake the TEFAQ in May.

He felt confident he had passed. But a few days later, he found out once again that his score was too low.

Francis Paganini, who has been living and working in Montreal on a temporary foreign worker visa, was baffled after he received two different marks for a French evaluation test he needed to pass in order to become a permanent resident. (CBC)

By then, the 28-year-old's work permit had expired, and he had no choice but to resign from his job at a Montreal gaming company.

"I figured I'd probably have to pack my bags and go back home," said Paganini.

A few weeks later, the CCIP sent Paganini his official transcript. When he saw it, he couldn't believe his eyes.

It showed he'd passed the test.

"I thought, what the hell, this isn't what I was told," said Paganini.

Unable to work

Paganini asked Quebec's ombudsman to confirm the result with the Ministry of Immigration.

It was indeed the correct mark, so Paganini was able to move forward with his application for permanent residency.

In July, he received his Quebec selection certificate.

While he waited for his work permit to be reissued, Francis Paganini, seen here in Jasper, Alta., visited friends in western Canada. But he had to be careful with his money, as his savings were quickly drying up. (Francis Paganini)

However, he still then had to reapply for his work permit and get his status as a temporary foreign worker restored. 

Luckily, the company he'd worked for promised him a contract once he got it.

His work permit finally came last week — after nearly four months in which he had to live off savings.

"It [was] starting to get a bit hairy," said Paganini.

'Exceptional' mistake

The CCIP in Paris has refused to answer any questions about the error, saying it was confidential.

However, a spokesperson for Quebec's Ministry of Immigration, Chantal Bouchard, did tell CBC News the mistake was "the only case" in 10 years in which two different results were communicated for the same test.

Francis Paganini's official transcript from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCIP) in Paris, France, showed a completely different mark than the one he'd initially been given. (CBC)

Bouchard said the CCIP told the ministry that an "exceptional failure of the information system resulted in the sending of two different results."

To avoid this type of error in future, she says, the CCIP has set up an alert system.

It's also changed the way exams are evaluated.

In the past, oral exams were evaluated by two examiners based in Quebec, with the CCIP in France only getting involved if the government asked for a mark to be double-checked.

Now, Bouchard said, oral exams are being evaluated first by an examiner in Quebec, then by the CCIP.

A formal grade won't be sent to students until after the second evaluation is complete.

Lost that loving feeling

Paganini says the whole experience has soured him on living in Quebec.

"Whatever excuse or reasons they may come up with, nothing can justify the sheer disruption to my life these people have caused," said Paganini.

When Francis Paganini first moved to Montreal, he fell in love with the city and wanted to settle here permanently. But after the year-long runaround he got over his French evaluation test, he's not so sure now he wants to stay. (CBC)

When he first came to Montreal on a temporary work permit two years ago, he felt like the city was a good fit.

He wanted to make Montreal his home, diving into French-language classes enthusiastically.

But between those classes, repeated TEFAQ tests, fees for having to reapply for a work permit, not to mention four months of lost salary, Paganini's now out thousands of dollars.

He says he'll return to work, but may eventually end up settling elsewhere in Canada.

"It's been a lot of hardship and stress," Paganini said. " A lot of unpleasantness."


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About the Author

Leah Hendry

Leah Hendry is a TV, radio and online journalist with CBC Montreal Investigates.