MONTREAL - The Legault government suspended on Friday its controversial modification to an immigration program that made it easier for international students to become Quebec residents.

The new rules considerably reduced the number of students and employees that could be accepted in Quebec, while a labour shortage affects all the province’s regions.

The suspension was a setback for Immigration Minister Simon-Jolin Barrette, who announced the suspension of all changes to the program on Friday.

The program, called the Quebec Experience Program (PEQ), was initially designed to allow all international students with an eligible degree, or those with work experience in Quebec, fast-track access to a Quebec selection certificate.

In 2018, 11,000 people obtained selection certificates through the program.  

Last week Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette had announced that Quebec would begin severely limiting the number of academic programs through which students could take part in the PEQ program.

Following tearful public testimony from several international students, Jolin-Barrette initially walked back some of the planned reform, saying students already in the province would be able to continue with the program due to acquired rights. On Friday, he announced the government would review all changes to the PEQ. 

The planned reforms garnered widespread criticism of the CAQ government, not just from students and opposition parties, but from Quebec business leaders, who feared the reforms would further increase the skilled labour shortage in the province.

Quebec solidaire MNA Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois wasted no time Friday in declaring a victory for students who had lobbied the CAQ government to drop the reforms.

On Thursday, opposition parties identified numerous economic organizations, educational institutions, CEGEPs and universities that were against tighter immigration rules.

With files from The Canadian Press