Immigrants to Quebec seeking to bring extended family to Canada may have to wait at least twice as long to be reunited with them if François Legault goes forward with a new plan to take in more immigrants hand-picked to meet the province’s labour needs.
That warning about increased wait times for family reunification came Thursday from the federal government and from an association of immigration lawyers in Quebec.
It is a further sign of the difficulties the province’s premier is facing as he seeks to reconcile a campaign promise to reduce Quebec’s annual immigration levels with what businesses say is an urgent need for more workers.
Soon after taking power last year, Legault announced Quebec would accept around 12,000 fewer immigrants in 2019 — a reduction of nearly 20 per cent from the numbers accepted under the previous Liberal government.
But in recent weeks, Legault has been lobbying the federal government to allow the province to increase the percentage of economic immigrants it accepts annually.
He’s acknowledged that would mean reducing the percentage of immigrants Quebec accepts from the other two streams — the family reunification and refugee resettlement programs, run by Ottawa.
Legault’s lobbying efforts received a huge boost at this week’s meeting of his provincial counterparts in Saskatoon. They backed his demand, calling for Ottawa to increase the percentage of economic immigrants admitted annually to Canada 65 per cent of all immigrants.
“We have the support of all the provinces and territories for what is a fairly important change,” Legault told reporters Wednesday.
“In Quebec, we’re talking about going from 58 to 65 per cent, and in the rest of Canada from 55 to 65 per cent.”
Family reunification a ‘key pillar’: Hussen
The balance is largely made up of immigrants who come to Canada under the family reunification program, with refugees accounting for just five to 10 per cent of the total number of immigrants Canada accepts annually.
So while Legault’s plan would help meet the needs of business, it will mean longer waits to process family reunification applications, by forcing those rejected because of a lack of space to reapply — applications that will be added to the pile the new ones received each year.
Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is willing to increase the overall number of economic immigrants to Quebec, a spokesperson for the minister said Thursday in a statement, but not at the expense of cutting back on other categories of immigrants.
“Cuts to family reunification immigration risks creating a two-tiered immigration system, where Quebecers wait longer to be reunited with their spouses and children,” said the statement provided to CBC News.
“Family reunification is a key pillar of our world-class immigration system and Canadians elected us to fix the mess left behind by the Harper government which kept families apart for years. Cutting family reunification, as being suggested by some premiers, risks returning us to those long wait times.”
The current wait time in Quebec to process an application for family reunification is around 15 months.
That could double to three years if the percentage of economic immigrants is boosted to 65 per cent, said one federal immigration official who spoke on background.
Legault made ‘huge mistake’: immigration lawyer
Ho Sung Kim, who sits on the board of the Quebec Association of Lawyers in Immigration Law, agreed that increasing the percentage of economic immigrants could double, or even triple, the wait times for family reunification applications.
By attempting to solve one problem, the Legault government is creating another, he said.
“They made a huge mistake by reducing the numbers by 12,000,” said Kim.
The Quebec government’s long-term plan is to gradually return immigration levels to where they were in 2018. But by then, said Kim, the damage will be done.
“You can’t fix processing delays in a year or two. Once you have backlogs, they will linger on.”
In the meantime, the prospect of longer wait times in Quebec could encourage the skilled immigrants, which businesses in the province need badly, to look for other places to settle, Kim said.