QUEBEC CITY -- Amid calls for him to step aside, Quebec's immigration minister has apologized for his botched proposal to reform a program that fast-tracks permanent residency for foreign students in the province.

Simon Jolin-Barrette is facing backlash over a reform he proposed earlier this month that would have placed severe limits on the number of foreign students allowed into the province, despite a labour shortage.

Called the Quebec Experience Program (PEQ), the program 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.

The reforms were universally criticized, forcing the government last week to backtrack and scrap the proposed plan.

Speaking outside Question Period on Tuesday, Jolin-Barrette admitted he'd made mistakes, adding that he promises to listen more in the future.

"I take full responsibility about the mistake that I made on the reform on immigration and I will go back to the table to make a new reform about the PEQ with all the partners," he said, explaining that he will consult with the business community and education sectors over the coming weeks.

Jolin-Barrette reiterated, though, that while he has regrets over the initial plan, he only temporarily suspended the reform to adjustments. 

"There's an urgency to reform the immigration system here in Quebec to be sure to select immigrants based on the Quebec job market needs," he said.

Legault shares blame

Premier Francois Legault also shouldered some of the blame, saying his goal to create a list of sectors most effected by the labour shortage fell short.

"We have to have a better list, but the intention was good. But it's my fault. I have to have my ministers more in coordination between employment, education and immigration. They have to work better together," he said, adding that "it wasn't done perfectly."

Legault admitted the government moved too quickly on the issue.

"When we make large and important changes, sometimes you can make errors if we want to go too fast. And that's what happened," he said.

Legault said, however, that his government is still focused on placing the emphasis on matching immigration to labour shortages, and said that currently, 58 per cent are overqualified "and it's not good for them, and it's not good for us."

Still, he had regrets.

"Yeah, I apologize, especially for the students who were worrying about their eventual presence in Canada," he said.

Opposition calls for Jolin-Barrette to step down

The opposition, though, is calling for Jolin-Barrette to step down from the immigration dossier over the matter.

"One thing we know for sure is that Mr. Simon Jolin-Barrette is certainly not the person who can continue to be immigration minister, because clearly he doesn't have the support. He doesn't have the credibility to achieve what needs to be achieved," said interim Liberal Leader Pierre Arcand.

"He went too fast. He doesn't consult people," added Quebec Solidaire spokesperson Manon Massé. "For example in the last week, we heard that the business milieu, the universities, the students – everyone said that this bill is not good for Quebec, is not good for the economy, it's not good for us (and) the image we push outside of Quebec."

Quebec solidaire has been calling for Jolin-Barrette's removal since last week, when MNAs stood by as foreign students offered tearful public testimony on the matter.

"We don't think that Mr. Jolin-Barrette is a good minister for immigration and, yes, we hope that he will be pushed off this mandate," she said.