Speech at the parliamentary committee concerning Bill 9
(Check against delivery)
Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion,
Members of the Committee on Citizen Relations,
Allow me to thank you for agreeing to hear the Québec Ombudsman on Bill 9.
The Québec Ombudsman is an impartial and independent body that ensures that the rights of citizens are upheld in their interactions with public services. We have four distinct mandates. Here is a brief description:
- First, we act to prevent and rectify violation of rights, abuse, negligence, inaction or errors by departments or agencies of the Government of Québec.
- We also intervene regarding the health and social services network as a second line of redress after the service quality and complaints commissioner. We are the first level of recourse further to a report by a third party.
- As Québec’s correctional ombudsman, we receive complaints from detainees in the 17 correctional facilities under the responsibility of the Ministère de la Sécurité publique.
- And lastly, since May 2017, we have handled disclosures of wrongdoing relating to public bodies and reprisal complaints in connection with these disclosures.
Our services are free and confidential.
When it feels that it is in the public interest to do so, the Québec Ombudsman may also comment on bills introduced in the National Assembly and when it deems it appropriate, propose amendments. With this in mind, we stand before you today.
I want to begin by saying that the Québec Ombudsman subscribes to the goals of Bill 9, Act to increase Québec’s socio-economic prosperity and adequately meet labour market needs through successful immigrant integration. These goals consist in particular of ensuring a better fit between economic immigration and Québec’s labour market needs. The Bill should also make it possible to shorten application processing wait times and resolve the backlog problem.
In this regard, the Québec Ombudsman was already sounding the alarm in its 2016-2017 Annual Report: what will happen, we asked ourselves at the time, to the 10,000 online applications received in the summer of 2016 by the new Mon projet Québec portal and still unprocessed as at March 31, 2017, and to the 21,000 paper applications received before December 31, 2015?
Later, in January 2018, the figures were not much better: a backlog of 24,000 files. On September 30 of the same year, there were nearly 20,000 files. Over the years, the Department had received too many immigration applications compared to set targets.
Today, as a result and alongside the introduction of a new system called ARRIMA, based on candidates’ expressions of interest, the Minister faces a critical situation: processing of 18,000 files, some of them submitted several years ago, is still pending.
We can only salute the Minister’s desire to break this bottleneck. However, the Minister’s single approach to immigration applications, that are nothing less than blueprints for a life, is the destruction of files and partial reimbursement for the fees incurred by candidates. As I see it, this is basically an administrative solution to a human problem.
Section 20 of Bill 9 specifies that " an application filed with the Minister before 2 August 2018 under the Regular Skilled Worker Program is terminated if, on (the date of introduction of this bill, February 7, 2019), the Minister has not made a selection, refusal or rejection decision on the application." The section provides for the return of any prescribed fees without interest.
It seems to me that this is a clear case of damage control. At the very least, damage control should consist of limiting, through empathy and fairness, undeniably serious harm. At this point, all we are doing is watering down the negative consequences.
This prompts me to express what worries me the most: what will the impact and adverse effects of section 20 be for the roughly 45,000 people whose 18,000 files will not have been fully examined, but especially for the approximately 6,000 people who are already living in Québec and on whose applications the Department has not made selection decisions?
If section 20 of Bill 9 will affect all individuals and families who plan a life for themselves in Québec, the impact will be even heavier for people who already live here, who have joined the workforce and who participate actively in Québec society.
Since Bill 9 was tabled, the Québec Ombudsman has received numerous complaints that reflect the concerns of people who live in Québec and who fear the effects of the new legislation on themselves and their families.
To illustrate what this really means for these people, I would like to give you two examples of complaints we have gotten since February 7, 2019, the date on which the Bill was introduced:
- A candidate who arrived in Québec three years ago has a job offer in a field where there are labour shortages. His work permit expires in October 2019. He complained to us because he fears that he will have to leave Québec.
- Another has a degree from a Québec university. He is taking French classes, but he has not reached the level of proficiency to qualify for the Québec Experience Program. His work permit also expires next fall. If he does not get his selection certificate, he will have to leave Québec.
Bear in mind that the federal government is responsible for issuing work permits and a Québec selection certificate is usually a prerequisite for renewing them.
Even though the Department refers candidates who are already on Québec soil to the Québec Experience Program, the program is not a blanket solution for the following reasons:
- One of the requirements is advanced intermediate knowledge of oral French. Numerous candidates, many of whom are Québec graduates, have not yet reached this level of proficiency.
- To qualify for the program, temporary foreign workers must have been employed full-time for at least 12 of the 24 preceding months.
- Self-employed workers are excluded. These candidates could turn to the Self-Employed Worker Program, but the financial requirements, in the tens of thousands of dollars, may put the program out of reach for many.
Consequently, the Québec Ombudsman recommends:
- That section 20 of Bill 9 be amended to provide that the first paragraph not apply to people who live in Québec;
- That the Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion fast-track these applications and process them as soon as possible.
Now let’s talk about the other files, namely, the 14,300 applications concerning slightly over 39,000 people who planned to live in Québec.
Here we are dealing with a problem caused in particular by the gap between Department targets and the number of incoming applications. Concretely, even if study of the 14,300 applications of people who are not living in Québec was sped up, many of those who would qualify for the purposes of a program would not be admitted anyway because the cap on the number of people accepted in one year would have been reached.
I feel that if Bill 9 is passed into law, it would be fairer for candidates who are still interested in immigrating to Québec to be paid back, with interest, for the fees incurred for their initial application. In addition, the proposed reimbursement should include the fees paid by the applicants for the language tests to support their application.
Consequently, the Québec Ombudsman recommends:
- That the second paragraph of section 20 of Bill 9 be amended to provide:
– that the reimbursement of the prescribed fees paid by the applicant bear interest at the legal rate; and
– that applicants whose files have been destroyed be reimbursed for the cost of the language tests recognized by the Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion.
I also consider it self-evident that all immigration candidates whose applications will be destroyed should receive a signed letter from the Department explaining the context, that is, too many applications compared to Department targets. The letters should also express the Government’s regret at destroying the files. In such cases, apologies do not go very far, but they may show that as a host nation, we are not indifferent to the hopes of those who approach us.
Furthermore, given the paperwork and costs involved in putting together an immigration file, I feel that the Department must return every supporting document in hard copy to all applicants. The same letter would invite them to submit a new application by means of the ARRIMA system if they wish to do so.
Consequently, the Québec Ombudsman recommends:
- That the Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion send every principal applicant a letter:
– explaining the context for the destruction of files;
– extending the Department’s apologies;
– describing the various steps in submitting a new application by means of the ARRIMA application management system; and
– return every supporting document in hard copy submitted by the person for his or her preceding immigration application.
In closing, during the preliminary remarks, I noted the pledge that the candidacies of those invited to apply for a Québec selection certificate would be processed within six months. Rest assured that I will follow the achievement of this goal attentively.
Thank you for your attention.