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McGill students and staff respond to new language requirements for the PEQ

On June 7, the Quebec government, led by the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) in the National Assembly, implemented changes to the Programme de l’expérience québécoise (PEQ)—a program which many international students at McGill rely on as a path to permanent residency. 

The PEQ has two branches: One for temporary foreign workers, and another for international students. The program provides a fast-track to permanent residency. If successful, applicants receive a Quebec Selection Certificate

As of June, the program now differentiates between applicants who have studied in French and those who have studied English. Whereas Francophone applicants can apply right after they finish their studies, Anglophone workers and students will not be qualified to apply unless they have been enrolled in secondary and post-secondary courses in a French institution for three years beforehand. The program makes no specification about whether or not Anglophone applicants need 12 to 18 months of employment before applying, a condition that has been exempted for Francophones. In addition, all applicants must now have a knowledge of oral French that is of Level 5 or higher on a 12-point French proficiency scale established by the Quebec government for immigrants. 

English universities—including McGill and Concordia—have voiced their discontent with this new requirement, stating that it will hurt their current and future student bodies and negatively affect English universities’ ability to attract students. According to McGill’s data, around 30 per cent of the student body are international students. The academic institutions have requested that the Minister of Immigration, Christine Fréchette, reconsider the new policy—a request the minister declined

McGill’s media relations officer Frédérique Mazerolle explained why McGill stands opposed to the policy in an email to The Tribune

“Our primary expertise and focus lie in identifying and attracting the finest talents globally, irrespective of the languages they speak, to contribute to our world-renowned research initiatives and, in the case of our professors, enrich the learning experience for our students, a significant portion of whom are from Quebec,” Mazerolle wrote.

During the party’s election campaign in Fall 2022, François Legault—the leader of the CAQ and Quebec’s premier—publicly stated that allowing more than 50,000 immigrants per year into Quebec would be “suicidal,” arguing that it would further threaten the French language. Despite this, the CAQ announced in late May that it will allow more than 50,000 immigrants per year into the province. When it shifted the language requirements for the PEQ, the CAQ also removed its cap on the number of students and temporary workers from outside of Canada who are eligible for the PEQ. 

McGill Political Science Professor Daniel Béland told The Tribune in an email that such changes in policy direction are ill-considered, but not uncharacteristic of the CAQ.

“The CAQ government regularly changes course on key policy issues based on polling numbers and pressures from various constituencies,” Béland wrote. “This is certainly the case in immigration policy, where the government’s lack of a coherent and compelling vision is hurting the economy and creating social anxieties that could have easily been avoided.”

Sumaira Nawaz, a fifth-year Ph.D. student at the Institute of Islamic Studies, pointed out that learning French requires time, which not everyone has in between the need to study and to find employment.

“I respect the [provincial government’s] intention, I understand that this is a French-speaking province,” Nawaz said. “Why would you change regulations? I’m in the fifth year of my Ph.D., I came here expecting that I can find employment in a bilingual setting at least. And now suddenly that’s gone? That’s ridiculous.”

The latest development in the CAQ’s policies impacting students is the plan to double tuition fees for out-of-province Canadian students. McGill’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor Deep Saini released a statement to the media, stressing that Quebec needs global talent to foster a successful economy. 

“A thriving knowledge economy requires a global exchange of talent,” Saini wrote. “The measures announced today will have a major, long-term effect on Quebec’s economy. The skilled people we attract and retain contribute significantly to Quebec and provide our businesses with the highly qualified workforce they so urgently need.”

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