MONTREAL -- Protests against the Quebec Experience Program reform continued Saturday, despite the new series of amendments announced earlier this week by Minister of Immigration Nadine Girault.

A few dozen demonstrators gathered in downtown Montreal in the pouring rain Saturday morning, then went to Saint-Agathe-des-Monts, in front of the minister's constituency office.

Girault unveiled a third version of the reform on Thursday.

Members of the Quebec Liberal Party and Québec Solidaire Gaétan Barrette and Andrés Fontecilla echoed the protesters and addressed the small crowd gathered in Place de la Paix.

They urged foreign students and workers not to give up.

The government has the power to change at any time,” said Barrette.

Fontecilla underlined his disappointment with Girault, who recently succeeded Simon Jolin-Barrette at the head of the Ministry of Immigration.

“We expected a change in tone,” he said.

Jolin-Barrette presented a second version of the program at the end of May, after the muddle that had forced the François Legault government to apologize last fall and return to the drawing board.

The Quebec Experience Program (PEQ) allows international students and temporary foreign workers already established in the province to quickly obtain a Quebec selection certificate, in order to gain permanent residence.

The reforms make the rules more stringent in terms of required work experience and fluency in French, among other changes. The processing time for requests will be considerably extended.

In addition to obtaining their diploma - which was previously enough to qualify the program - international students will now have to acquire 12 to 18 months of full-time work experience.

As for foreign workers, the requirement goes from one to two years and can only be fulfilled in certain areas, which excludes less qualified workers.


Under the changes presented on Thursday, foreign students who graduate before the end of the year will finally be able to access the PEQ according to the criteria that was in place before the reform, which is scheduled to come into force on July 22.

However, those who will finish their studies next year will still have to go through the new program, even if they did not arrive in Quebec under these terms.

This is the case of Cristina Falconi. The Franco-Peruvian student was due to graduate in IT support next December. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, it was impossible for her to complete her studies before March 2021.

“It is unfair that for two or three months, we are not entitled to this acquired right. It really kills our morale,” she said.

The young woman is now thinking of leaving the country, but not all her classmates have this freedom. Some have invested too much money and even moved their small family counting on the PEQ fast track, she said.

Xiang Wang, who studies computer graphics, also saw his graduation postponed by the health crisis.

“We would like to apply the old law to the PEQ for all students who have already started their studies in Quebec,” argued the Chinese student. “A promise is a promise.”

At the very least, the Liberal Party and Québec Solidaire are calling for the addition of a grandfather clause.

“The future of these people is seriously compromised,” said Fontecilla. “Everything stems from the arbitrary and demagogic decision, in my opinion, to lower the immigration thresholds.”

Barrette believes that the reform is “indefensible” and “based exclusively on ideology.”

“We are sleeping in Quebec. It damages our reputation. We are harming our academic network,” he said.

The Immigration Department maintains that a reform was necessary to “ensure a better adequacy with the labour needs of Quebec and to achieve a balance with our immigration programs.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 11, 2020.