Immigration reform

Quebec’s plan to cancel 18,000 skilled-worker applications is misguided and morally wrong

Photo by Daan Huttinga on Unsplash
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Quebec’s newly-minted CAQ government managed to catch everyone by surprise when it tabled an immigration bill that includes a plan to throw out 18,000 skilled worker applications made before the CAQ came to power and dating back to 2005.

The decision comes amid government plans to introduce a new system of selecting immigrants that prioritizes “Quebec values, the French language, and the needs of the labour market.” The announcement, made just days after Premier Legault said his government would process all skilled worker applications submitted during the previous government’s mandate, has drawn the ire of many who see the decision as short-sighted and unfair to the 50,000-75,000 people who are now left in limbo.

CAQ supporters are lauding the decision, arguing it is a decisive and necessary move to decrease Quebec’s immigration backlog and get the system back on track. They are, however, unable (or unwilling) to see that this arbitrary and unnecessary move is penalizing people who have been waiting years to have their applications reviewed and comes at a heavy cost to Quebec’s economy and international reputation.

What’s the cost of lost time?

The Quebec government has reassured these applicants that the $1,000 they spent in application fees will be reimbursed, displaying either ignorance or indifference at the collateral damage caused. Even if they get their application fee back, who will pay these applicants for all the decisions they have made since, based on the expectation that their application would soon be processed and hopefully approved? How much do lost years, lost dreams, an opportunity to have chosen another destination to possibly apply to, cost in cold hard cash?

At least 25 per cent of these applicants have already uprooted themselves, moved here, started working and paying taxes, built a life, and are fully contributing members of our society who have been blindsided. Now told that they are back to square one and left in limbo, they no doubt feel confused and frustrated.

Why would a skilled worker who has been treated so irresponsibly and made to feel so unwelcome by the Quebec government give us another chance?

Not to mention that, given the reality of Quebec’s current labour shortages, choosing to throw 18,000 skilled worker applications in the garbage is utterly counterproductive.

Critics of the CAQ’s decision see a Machiavellian decision to simply trash applications made under the last Liberal government’s first-come, first-served program, thereby forcing applicants to re-apply under the government’s newly proposed screening system.

Immigration cannot operate like a dating app

Why would a skilled worker who has been treated so irresponsibly and made to feel so unwelcome by the Quebec government give us another chance and waste more of their valuable time waiting this process out? I would pack my bags (which is what many have said they will be doing) and go where they treat me as an asset. Who wants to rely on the ever-changing whims of a new government who thinks the immigration system should operate like Tinder?

The CAQ could have easily processed the current applications and moved ahead with their proposed new system, ensuring future applications would match their priorities. Throwing out current applications — which penalizes applicants for a slow processing system that had absolutely nothing to do with them or their eligibility — is cruel, irresponsible, morally wrong, and treats immigrants as mere numbers and not as human beings with dreams, expectations and, yes, finite lifespans.

It also makes Quebec look incredibly bad on the national and international stage and damages its reputation as a destination for qualified skilled workers. I can’t imagine many would be interested in navigating a lengthy and costly application process only to be subjected to the volatile and unpredictable mood swings of a government that would choose to completely disregard and disrespect agreements that were already in place when it took power.

Shattered dreams and uncertainty

Bobby Anguelov, a technical architect and lead programmer at WB Games Montreal, who also used to work at Ubisoft, tweeted out a frantic message after receiving the news.

“This is absolutely terrifying since my application is one of these. I am now completely unsure of my future in Quebec and Canada. Seems like it’s a 50/50 chance whether I’ll be kicked out at the end of the year.” He later added that he was now considering moving back to Europe where he can legally work.

The CAQ continues to “other” those interested in joining Quebec society.

In a recent CTV article, trilingual applicant Fernanda Perez Gay Juarez, a medical doctor and Ph.D. candidate at McGill, described how she has spent 18 months waiting on this application, only to now find out that she (like so many others) is collateral damage under the CAQ’s plan and must start the entire process from scratch, without her application having ever even been considered.

“Some people don’t realize how much time, money, and effort it implies,” she said. “They’re just like ‘Okay, apply again. What’s the big deal.’ But we have to gather a lot of papers, get translations done, do French tests that cost money just to go into this process. Then they just cancel it and throw it into the garbage can.”

In numerous interviews, applicants describe feeling “betrayed,” “stunned,” “destroyed,” and “devastated.” More than anything else, the sentiment of having their applications flippantly tossed away after effort, money, and time has been invested has left a bitter taste.

“We are not numbers, we are human beings,” an Algerian applicant, who (irony of all ironies) specifically chose French-speaking Quebec so he could integrate better here, told Radio-Canada.

The thinly veiled language of division

While the immigration minister is making the media rounds, trying to justify and explain why his government chose to swipe left on 18,0000 applicants without even looking at them, Bill 9 continues to use coded language that appeals to the 36 per cent of the Quebec population that voted them in. With its persistent and repeated use of “democratic values, and Quebec values” that need to be adopted by immigrants, the CAQ continues to “other” those interested in joining Quebec society.

Let’s take a quick look at these values while we’re here, shall we? There’s no debate about the need for French language acquisition. It’s primordial in Quebec and no one should dispute that. But prioritizing immigrants who speak the French language has already been a big part of Quebec’s immigration system for years. Despite what the CAQ would have many believe, points on the selection grid are already awarded based on an applicant’s knowledge of French, and French has always been prioritized.

As far as “Quebec values” go, Quebec’s online immigration site already provides a clear explanation of the common values of Quebec society, which make note of secularism, gender equality, democracy and pluralism, among others.

So, what exactly is the new CAQ legislation adding to that, other than creating the distinct impression that immigrants are a burden to society and that they must do all they can to eliminate their dead weight, if they are to be allowed in? All the CAQ is managing is to make Quebec look like a reactionary, immigrant-bashing, insular province that is turning people away. The CAQ is solidifying its reputation as a party that is incapable of seeing immigration as the tremendous asset that it is, both for Quebec’s labour market and for the survival of the French language, and instead is treating people like numbers in its flawed plan.

In the meantime, highly qualified, highly educated, and highly motivated immigrants are contemplating whether wasting more time is worth it. Many are beginning to look elsewhere. These applicants may be the ones paying the price right now, but Quebecers will be the ones losing out in the long run.

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