Quebec Premier François Legault addressed his government’s controversial move to dismiss a backlog of 18,000 pending skilled worker applications Thursday, saying the province will prioritize 3,700 applications from candidates already working in the province on temporary permits.
Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government was hit with a 10-day injunction earlier this week by a Quebec Superior Court judge who ordered the government to continue processing the backlogged applications.
The injunction was requested by an association of Quebec immigration lawyers that argued Quebec’s immigration minister is required by law to issue decisions on the pending applications and does not have the discretionary authority to refuse to do so.
The CAQ government introduced legislation known as Bill 9 on February 7 that called for the immediate termination of the paper-based applications, which were submitted prior to the introduction of an online, expression of interest-based selection process for the Quebec Skilled Worker Program (QSWP) last August.
Legault told reporters Thursday that the candidates the CAQ wants to prioritize will still have to submit an expression of interest through the province’s new Arrima portal — which manages the pool of candidates for the QSWP — and said their expressions of interest will only be processed once Bill 9 is passed into law.
The premier was responding to criticisms levied by Quebec’s Ombudsperson, Marie Rinfret, in a written brief submitted to a National Assembly committee that is studying Bill 9.
Rinfret said the 18,000 applications represent around 45,000 people when spouses and dependent children are factored in, of whom 6,000 are already living in Quebec.
Rinfret said CAQ’s decision to cancel the applications lacked empathy and was “an essentially administrative solution to a human problem.”
The ombudsperson condemned the CAQ government’s disregard for the “life projects” that the applications represent and called on it to honour the applications from those already in Quebec.
Rinfret said each of the 14,300 overseas applicants who won’t be prioritized should have all application and language test fees refunded and receive a signed letter of apology from Quebec’s CAQ Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette.
When Bill 9 was introduced, Jolin-Barrette said the new expression of interest-based system is a better fit for the CAQ government’s efforts to tailor the selection of skilled workers to labour shortages in regions around the province.
Jolin-Barrette said dismissing the application backlog was necessary so the government could focus on selecting candidates who have applied through Arrima, and reduce processing times from 36 months to six months.
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