Suspension of Quebec graduate program leaves international students in limbo

“We don’t want you here.”

That’s the message Fernanda Pérez Gay Juárez says she is left with, after learning Quebec has suspended, until at least November, a program to fast-track immigration applications from recent graduates of a post-secondary institution in the province.

Pérez Gay Juárez is a medical doctor from Mexico who just graduated from McGill University with a PhD in neuroscience.

Now working as a researcher at McGill on a temporary work permit, her dream is to do her residency in psychiatry here in Quebec — but to do that she needs her permanent residence status.

Pérez Gay Juárez was among 16,000 skilled worker applicants whose files were thrown out when the CAQ government passed its immigration reforms in June. She was invited to reapply through the government’s new process, but she thought her best bet was through the program for recent graduates — called the Quebec Experience Program (PEQ).

“When I found out they closed it to students, I felt angry, sad, disappointed,” she said.

She said the message is, “We don’t care about your education. We don’t care if you paid tuition fees for five years, or if you speak French…. Your values, your preparation is not important for us.”

HIV researcher considers moving away

Ana Lucía Fernández Cruz says she’s thinking about moving to Ontario now that the program has been suspended. (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC)

A fellow McGill neuroscience PhD graduate, Ana Lucía Fernández Cruz, is in much the same boat.

Fernández Cruz, originally from Colombia, has lived in Montreal since 2012 and studied in Germany before that. She’s now spent two years working on her French so she can pass exams proving her fluency in her fourth language.

A researcher at the Montreal Neurological Institute, where she studies the effects of HIV on the brain, Fernández Cruz, too, feels like a victim of bureaucratic red tape.

She applied for permanent residence status under the PEQ program in February but was denied because of an apparent administrative mix-up. Her case was under appeal when she got word the program has now been suspended.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said. She is considering moving to Ontario, where the express immigration process takes only about six months.

“My life is here. My friends are here,” she said.

“It doesn’t make sense to other students who come here and plan the long-term future in Quebec, and then it’s not going to be possible.”

Lawyer Ho Sung Kim says it’s hard for regular people to navigate Quebec’s immigration system since the rules change so often. (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC)

The government says the suspension of the program is temporary, until November, while the Immigration Ministry tries to clear the backlog of files from applicants who already have permanent jobs in Quebec locked down.

However, Ho Sung Kim, who is on the executive of the Quebec Immigration Lawyers Association (AQAADI), said telling recent graduates to wait until late fall, when the program may be reinstated, does nothing to ease their uncertainty.

“They don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Kim. “We aren’t certain the program will reopen in November. Will there be changes to the program or not? The government promised nothing to these students.”

A ministry spokesperson told CBC News that there is still a path for international graduates to stay in Quebec.

“They are invited to apply for a post-graduation work permit and to find a job in Quebec,” the spokesperson said.

Both Gay Juarez and Fernandez Cruz can stay in Quebec, for now, because they have temporary work permits.

CBC News learned from the Immigration Ministry that Gay Juarez may be eligible for an exception, since her immigration application was one of some 16,000 still waiting to be processed which the government threw out when it passed its immigration reform law last month.

However, no one from the ministry has explicitly told Gay Juarez that she would be eligible.

She and Fernandez Cruz are now left wondering where they go from here.