Almost 600 immigrants were subjected to a peculiar probe into their French language skills, despite having already passed the required government tests. The provincial Ministry of Immigration summoned hundreds of students and temporary workers to a French spot check that would determine whether or not their application for permanent residency would be accepted, in what immigration lawyers call an abusive procedure.
“The standards on which those decisions were made are not legal standards. They cannot be found anywhere in registration or regulations,” claims Olga Redko, who is part of a team defending 16 of the rejected applicants in court.
At least 585 immigrants, most of which are students from India, China or the Middle-East, were on track to get their permanent residency as skilled workers through the Quebec Experience Program (QEP) when they were summoned.
To benefit from that program, applicants have to prove that they have a certain proficiency in French, namely by completing classes or passing official exams in Ministry-approved schools. So it was an unwelcome surprise when, after having done so, they received a letter summoning them to a supplementary interview with Ministry officials because the Ministry wasn’t convinced their French was good enough.
Once there, they were put on the spot through an oral examination that lasted between 30 and 45 minutes, where they had to score at least seven on a one to 12 scale to pass. 321 of them failed and saw their application rejected as a result. They will have to wait another five years before they can start the application process over, if their visa doesn’t expire before then.
Teachers and lawyers argue that this failure rate is not surprising considering that it was a surprise evaluation that took place in immensely stressful conditions and, contrarily to the usual Ministry exams, it didn’t account for skills in reading, writing or comprehension.
Reasons for supplementary evaluation still unclear
Many of the students were told, in the letter or afterwards, that the Ministry had reasons to believe that they had given false or misleading information in their application.
“But they weren’t provided those reasons or any explanation of why the Ministry believed that,” maintains Olga Redko. She says some of her clients even submitted supplementary documents to prove their credentials, like transcripts and attestations from the school board, but were still rejected.
Communications Advisor for the Ministry of Immigration Amina Benkirane says that “it’s not exactly” that the Ministry believes that the students provided false information about passing the required tests.
“The Ministry identified practices that aim to circumvent the goals of the immigration programs designed for international students, like the QEP, so we are currently reviewing those files,” Benkirane claimed. She says that she cannot reveal anything about said practices, because of it is part of an ongoing investigation by UPAC, the anti-corruption unit.
The investigation she is referring to was launched in December, following reports of “irregularities” in the international department of the two major English school boards in Montreal, Lester B. Pearson and the English Montreal School Board (EMSB). According to information gathered by the CBC, most of the applicants that were called in were doing their French exams with one of these two institutions.
Olga Redko can’t confirm the percentage, but she knows that it is not the case for all the rejected applicants. Either way, it should not matter, since the two school boards remain on the list of Ministry-approved institutions. Indeed, the official regulations of the QEP plainly state that completing a Ministry-approved French program fulfills the language requirement.
“If the Ministry is unsatisfied with the quality of the training provided by the institution or anything else going on there, then the Ministry has to take it up with the institution itself. It has nothing to do with whether the student completed a program or not,” argues Redko.
She and her team are asking for a judicial review of the procedure, seeking the nullification of the Ministry’s decisions regarding their clients. They had started with four clients but they now have 16 and others could join in, since the Ministry is still conducting the exams.
* Featured image: Montreal offices of the Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion via Google StreetView