Immigration lawyers and students are scrambling to figure out their next course of action a day after the Quebec government reversed course on controversial reforms to a popular student immigration program. quebec bill 9 immigration

The Quebec Experience Program allows international students with eligible degrees or work experience in Quebec to get their applications for residency in the province fast-tracked. While early last week Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said the province would begin severely limiting the number of academic programs eligible for the QEP, widespread backlash led to an announcement on Friday that those changes would be suspended.

Immigration lawyer Ho Sung Kim said while the news was welcome many clients are still confused.

“They were in total panic, they didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I have to consult the same clients and tell them all over again what this means for them.”

Jolin-Barrette was lambasted by political opponents, with Liberal MNA Gaetan Barrette saying he was toying with people’s lives.

“This is something we are to be ashamed of,” he said.

The reversal came after tearful demonstrations in the National Assembly in which students begged to stay in Quebec. The changes to the program were also heavily criticized by organisations like the Montreal Chamber of Commerce and a number of CEGEPs and universities.

One student’s case garnered Quebec’s immigration system international attention. Emilie Dubois, a France native, had her application for residency rejected due to a lack of proficiency in French.

That decision was later reversed.

Sung Kim said that despite the government’s change of heart, he expects more measures aimed at curtailing immigration to be announced.

“The only thing they think about is the immigration numbers because that was their electoral promise,” he said. “They want to stick to that no matter what.”

During last year’s provincial election campaign Premier Francois Legault promised to cut the number of new immigrants to Quebec by 20 per cent. The government has also been criticized over an earlier immigration bill that scrapped thousands of ongoing applications to live and work in Quebec, forcing applicants to start the process over again.