The coronavirus pandemic has shaken Quebec's immigration system


The coronarvirus crisis has added yet another group of collateral victims of the virtual shutdown imposed on Quebec and the rest of the country — immigrants who want to settle in Quebec who now find their futures increasingly uncertain.

Immigration support groups are working to combat the psychological stress caused by the crisis, said Alia Hassan-Cournol, director of Accueil liaison pour arrivants (ALPA).

Hassan-Cournol told the Presse Canadienne that foreign students feared they would be unable to graduate and apply for the province’s Programme de l’expérience québécoise (PEQ), a step toward permanent residency.

The fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak has also compelled the office of Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette to concede there will be “delays in the processing of requests” for those looking to settle in the province.

“We have been working like crazy since COVID-19,” said Hassan-Cournol. “You’re now seeing layers and layers of instability (added to the immigration process), questions, and it creates anxiety.”

Immigration processing is a responsibility shared by Quebec and Ottawa. Those seeking to apply for the PEQ, renew their study or work permits, obtain permanent residency status or a selection certificate need answers from those governments, said Hassan-Cournol.

Those persons are living “with a sword of Damocles over their heads as well as a very, very large question mark.”

Hassan-Cournol noted that some groups have asked the federal government to automatically extend by 90 days visas on the verge of expiring.

“We are in a state of flux,” she said. “We don’t know when we’ll get answers from the ministries concerned about delays and the effects of this (government) slowdown.

“It’s certain that at some point we are going to need clearer answers.”

ALPA, which has a staff of social workers, offers free services in 15 languages. Overwhelmed by recent events, the group is considering adding psychologists to its ranks to aid an increasingly worried clientele.

Meanwhile, Stephan Reichold of the Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes, deplores the delays in the immigration process created by the outbreak, “especially since the delays were already long, but now, with telecommuting, all the administrative processes have slowed down.”