Following through on campaign promises made by premier François Legault, the Quebec government proposed long touted changes to the Quebec Experience Program (PEQ) on Nov. 1. The PEQ is a provincial program that offers immigrants to Quebec who are studying at an educational institution fast track to permanent residency following the completion of their degree; the program also applies to immigrants working in Quebec. The changes that the government sought to put into law would have decreased the number of programs and degrees considered valid for entering the PEQ process. Specifically, Legault stated that the government wanted to focus on limiting the PEQ to accepting jobs which focus on “serving” Quebec’s labour market: This means that degrees in engineering, nursing, and information technology sectors would continue to be considered valid for the PEQ, degrees in the liberal arts, sciences, and other areas would not. On Nov. 5, a group of students went to the National Assembly in Québec to ask government officials to abandon the changes, speaking about the debasing effects it could have on immigrant students. Since then, after waves of public criticism, the government has suspended the changes.
The changes proposed to the PEQ are clear examples of racism and xenophobia, sentiments that have characteristic of the CAQ’s leadership thus far. The proposal of such a policy, as well as any similarly structured restrictive immigration policy that the government may attempt to pass in the future, are condemnable. Further, Premier Legault’s worth-based rationale for the PEQ policy changes are troubling and problematic. Evaluating the worth of immigrant residents in the province by a metric which attempts to quantify their contribution to the economy is both destructive and dehumanizing.
It would be incorrect to view the CAQ’s most recent policy proposal in a vacuum. In conjunction with other actions this administration has taken thus far in its tenure, the proposed changes to the PEQ unmistakably manifest from exclusionary nationalist sentiments. For example, the proposed provincial ‘values test’ that the government has proposed for immigrants hoping to settle in Quebec contains questions designed to identify and discriminate against test takers based on their individual and religious beliefs. Additionally, the government has already reduced the total number of immigrant residents in the province by over 25 per cent since assuming power.
30 per cent of McGill’s student body is made up of international students, making many of them potential immigrants to Quebec post-graduation. For many international students, the PEQ presents not only a valuable resource as a possible path to citizenship, but a crucial pillar of stability for their life in Canada and Quebec. A parochial shift in the PEQ with regards to which programs are eligible would be devastating for McGill’s international student population. This policy would leave current students, scrambling to figure out how they are going to operate following their graduation. In addition, such a policy would certainly deter future students from coming to McGill to pursue higher education.
McGill could support international students by sending out a message of support and solidarity, and directing students to resources which could help them prepare for the worst if the CAQ decides to attempt to pass a racist policy again. In addition, the financial resources which McGill offers to non-refugee immigrant students in terms of aid, stipends, or bursaries are lacking at both the graduate and undergraduate level. The university should expand these resources to all international students in the future. People should not have to be escaping unlivable, crisis situations to qualify for financial aid.
The International Student Services (ISS) office has a variety of resources on their website that students can use to assess their post-graduation options. In addition, while the Legal Information Clinic (LIC) cannot offer specific legal advice, they can offer information about immigration law. Canadian students have a role to play in this process as well, which includes remaining informed and knowledgeable about provincial politics and the ways it affects their peers and classmates, and providing emotional support to those students who might suffer the consequences of the CAQ’s future policies. The McGill community is made up of both future and current Canadians, and we have a responsibility to support each other in times of need.