February 20, 2019 – A Quebec Superior Court judge will hear an injuction request being mounted by the Quebec Association of Immigration Lawyers against the Quebec government’s plan to begin applying its new immigration law.
The Quebec Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness (MIDI) tabled its proposed legislation on February 7, 2019. The new law, not yet in force, will cancel all pending skilled worker applications that have not reached a decision prior to August 2, 2018.
Bill 9 titled “To increase Québec’s socio-economic prosperity and to respond adequately to the needs of the labor market through the successful integration of immigrants”, will undergo further study in the Quebec National Assembly. Once passed by MP’s and approved by the Quebec Lieutenant Governor, it will become law.
But the government has already taken effective measures to begin applying the new law even though it is not yet in force. It recently put 18,000 pending applicants on notice to consider applying to Quebec under new rules, even before the law has passed the legislative process.
The request for injunction, describing this a “flagrante illegality”, aims to force Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette to continue processing all pending applications, until the law passes.
Figures show MIDI has historically finalized approximately 2000 applications each month. In 2015 it finalized 28,019 applications, accepting only 41%. This accounted for approximately 32,000 foreign national applicant and their dependents.
The injuction request describes the government’s decision to stop processing its backlog of 18,000 pending applications, as an unlawful refusal to render a decision in these cases.
Quebec is mired in controversy as more than 50,000 individuals including applicants and dependents, who applied under the Quebec Skilled Worker program, await processing of their pending applications. Some date as far back as 10 years.
The current Quebec government, the Coalition Avenir du Quebec, (CAQ) swept to power in October 2018 under a platform to reduce economic immigration levels by 20%.
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The CAQ says it wants to reduce immigration temporarily so that the process of integrating new immigrants can be improved. The new law will put a permanent end to thousands of applications.
With much of Quebec facing chronic labour shortages, opponents to the government’s policies say the province is in dire need of increased immigration, particularly in the Economic Class.
The CAQ’s move to push ahead with the reduced immigration levels comes despite a warning from Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“What I hear across Quebec is that entrepreneurs and businesses are concerned about a lack of labour,” Trudeau said. “I am not sure it is the best time to reduce the number of people who come.”
On a national level, Ottawa announced in October 2018 plans to increase immigration to 350,000 newcomers per year by 2021.
The use of retroactive legislation is a hallmark of Quebec Immigration policies. It used this legal tool in the past to raise criteria of pending applications, retroactively.
However, this is the first time it will completely cancel applications in order to deal with an unmanageable backlog of unprocessed applications.
In August 2018, Quebec implemented an Expression of Interest immigration system under its Quebec Skilled Worker program, called Arrima. It functions in a similar way as the federal Express Entry system and replaces the former first-come, first-served process. The first draw under this new system has not yet taken place.
Bill 9 will not affect applicants who submitted profiles under this new EOI system.
This is not the first time a Canadian immigration ministry has started to apply new law, even before it has been formally adopted. In 2012 Ottawa tabled new legislation to cancel an inventory of nearly 1M pending applications and their dependents. A similar successful legal challenge forced the Federal Immigration Minister at that time, to continue processing these applications, until the law came into force. Federal authorities were subsequently forced to rescind its policies until the law passed.
The new Quebec immigration minister, a member of the Quebec Bar, appears to have ignored this precedent.
Bill 9 is specially harsh to the approximately 10,000 immigrants and their families currently studying and working in the province, who face the prospect of having to leave, when the new law passes and their status expires.
The request for injunction is scheduled to be heard this Friday February 22, 2019.
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