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CAQ’s proposed reforms to PEQ spark criticism from student organizations across Québec

Quebec’s Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government announced on May 28 its proposed reforms to the Quebec Experience Program (Programme de l’expérience québécoise, or PEQ), a popular immigration program that fast tracks temporary foreign workers and international students to obtain the Quebec Selection Certificate (CSQ) required to apply for permanent residency in the province. While the CAQ backtracked on its November 2019 reforms under public pressure, the latest reforms that restrict PEQ eligibility have sparked pushback and protest across Quebec.

Whereas the previous iteration of the PEQ had no work obligation, the proposed reforms will require international students with a Quebec bachelor’s or master’s degree to have at least 12 months of work experience after graduation in categories 0, A, and B of the National Occupational Classification (NOC) to be eligible for the PEQ. The categories 0, A and B are managerial and professional jobs that require university degrees, technical professions requiring college diplomas or apprenticeships, and occupations requiring a high school diploma, respectively.

While Premier François Legault promised to include a grandfather clause to protect students already settled and studying in Quebec from being subject to the reforms, it was absent from the May 28 announcement.

The application will no longer accept the completion of a Québec university French course as proof of proficiency while other options for demonstrating knowledge of French will remain unchanged. Lastly, citing steadily increasing applications for the PEQ, the reforms would also see the maximum processing time for PEQ applications increase from 20 days to 6 months, bringing the processing time frame to match the Federal Express Entry’s 6-month processing timeframe.

Several student unions and groups across Quebec have vocalized their opposition to the reforms. The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) released a statement condemning the reforms and called for their immediate reversal. SSMU, as well as McGill’s Post Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) and eight other Quebec student unions and groups, have signed an open letter to Minister of Immigration, Francisation, and Integration Simon Jolin-Barrette outlining their grievances with the new policy. The statement highlights the potential socio-economic barriers and implications of the increased work requirements amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and the extended processing times.

In a press conference on June 19, Concordia Student Union Academic and Advocacy coordinator Sarah Mazhero stressed international students’ integral role in the Quebec economy.

“The international students who choose Quebec make a significant economic contribution, filling nearly 25,000 jobs each year and […] [collectively spending] $3 billion a year to continue their education in Quebec,” Mazhero said.

Alexandre Caillon, president of the McGill University Liberals Association (MULA), worries that the increasingly stringent conditions for PEQ eligibility coupled with longer processing times will negatively impact recent graduates.

“There are lots of scholarships and grants that require permanent residency,” Caillon said. “ […] These students may want to go to different universities in other provinces, so in a way, [this policy could] create a sort of brain drain away from the province,”

After the CAQ announced a cabinet shuffle that saw International Relations Minister Nadine Girault take over the immigration portfolio from Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette. Girault eased some of the PEQ requirements, allowing up to 3 months of internship experience to count towards the 12 months required work experience and introducing a transitional measure which will grandfather students who obtain the PEQ before December 31, 2020, under the previous PEQ rules.

Still, many students, including Yanik Müller, External Affairs officer to the PGSS, remain unsatisfied with Girault’s reforms.

“We want to acknowledge [the] effort that the government […] put forward in order to have a [transitional] clause”, said Muller, “but we want the government to [extend] this grandfather clause to all the students who started their program before these changes came into effect.”

After announcing the new reforms in a press conference, Girault said this would be “the final version” of PEQ. The policy is slated to come into effect on July 22nd.

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