Quebec should reconsider immigration changes
Recently announced reforms to the Quebec Experience Program should be reconsidered.
Since 2010, the Quebec Experience Program (or “PEQ” in French) has offered a fast-track to permanent residence for temporary foreign workers and international students that lived in Quebec. Such individuals could often get their Quebec Selection Certificate in around 20 business days, and then go ahead and submit their permanent residence application to the federal government.
This was excellent policy by Quebec.
Government research shows that such individuals integrate quickly into Canada’s economy and society since they are young, well-educated, speak English and French and have Canadian work experience.
In addition, it made sense for Quebec to fast-track their applications since unlike immigration candidates outside of Canada, such individuals are already here. It would be very inconvenient to have them leave Quebec when they have already established themselves in the province and are contributing to the economy as workers and consumers.
Problems with Quebec’s new work experience requirements
The province is increasing the work experience requirements that future applicants will need to obtain to become eligible for the PEQ.
Currently, a temporary foreign worker (TFW) needs 12 months of eligible Quebec work experience within the preceding 24 months of submitting their application to meet the PEQ’s criteria. Students do not need Quebec work experience to be eligible.
Quebec will now require 36 months of work experience from TFWs and between 12-24 months of work experience from foreign students (depending on their program of study in Quebec).
Currently, highly-qualified QSWP candidates are not able to obtain permanent residence under what is a more competitive process than what PEQ applicants need to go through.
However, Quebec is now introducing stricter work experience requirements for the PEQ than what is currently in place nationally. This means it will become more difficult for foreign workers and students to obtain permanent residence in Quebec.
One may argue that this is a good thing, since those that do become immigrants (whether through the QSWP or QEP) are more likely to succeed in the province.
But, many of the foreign workers and students who are poised to succeed will be unlikely to meet the high bar that Quebec has set.
It is quite normal across Canada for federal and provincial programs to have work experience requirements in place for existing TFWs and international students that want to transition to permanent residence. However, typically, the Canadian work experience requirement is set at 12 months. Whether Quebec likes it or not, it is in competition with other provinces to attract and retain global talent.
If I am a province that is offering the same product (in this case, Canadian permanent resident status), what is the incentive for a prospective immigrant to go through more hurdles when neighbouring provinces offer that product at a much lower cost? (i.e., only 12 months of work experience required versus 24-36 months for TFWs and some international students in Quebec).
Quebec’s higher standards will disincentivize TFWs and students from choosing Quebec.
Such individuals will either choose to go to other provinces at the start of their Canadian immigration journey, or will leave Quebec and move to another province when they are ready to apply for permanent residence.
Even if an individual is motivated to remain in Quebec, it may prove difficult for them to obtain the work experience they may need to be eligible for the PEQ.
For instance, some TFWs such as International Exchange Canada participants have work permits that are valid for no more than two years. Employers may not be willing spend the time and money required to petition the government to provide such individuals with one or more work permits (e.g., a work permit that requires a Labour Market Impact Assessment or “LMIA”).
One other point on this front: in the short run, it will become even more challenging for candidates to meet the new work experience requirements due to the economic damage that is being caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
New processing standard is also problematic
Quebec indicated that it will now seek to process PEQ applications within 6 months, rather than 20 business days, in order to harmonize its processing standard with the Quebec Skilled Worker Program.
Once again, Quebec is hurting its competitiveness since the quicker processing standard was one of the PEQ’s major selling points. Now, prospective immigration candidates may look to options outside of the province given that there will no longer be a significant advantage to applying to the PEQ.
Keep in mind that it was already taking nearly 23 months for PEQ candidates to obtain permanent residence (20 business days to get a Quebec Selection Certificate plus another 22 months for the federal government to process permanent residence applications).
Adding another fives months on top of that is unwise on its own, and even more so when you consider that successful Express Entry candidates are usually able to get permanent residence within six months.
A better solution would have been to identify how to reduce the length of time it takes Quebec to issue CSQs to QSWP candidates.
Changes come at a time when Quebec will need more immigration
No immigration program is perfect, and it is a good practice for Canada’s federal and provincial governments to seek reforms to their programs to help meet the country’s evolving economic and social needs.
However, not all reforms end up being beneficial.
In this case, time will likely prove that Quebec’s reforms are misplaced. By discouraging workers and students from remaining in the province due to uncompetitive work experience requirements and processing times, Quebec may end up with even lower immigration levels at a time when it will need higher immigration in the years to come due to its aging population and low birth rate.
This may be hard to fathom at the moment due to the COVID-19 crisis.
But, the crisis will eventually pass and Quebec will soon need more immigrants to complement its Quebec-born work force.
What better way of doing so, then by providing a fast-track to immigration for the workers and students that have already resided in Quebec and contributed for several years?
Kareem El-Assal is the Director of Policy & Digital Strategy at CanadaVisa.
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