International Students Hit by Surprise Tests by Quebec Immigration

“Unconstitutional,” “Racial Profiling” Language Exams Put Residency Status in Jeopardy

  • “The CSU condemns the Department of Immigration of Quebec for it’s lack of equity and transparency when dealing with international students,” said Academic and Advocacy Coordinator Sophia Sahrane. Photo by Miriam Lafontaine

Close to 600 international students faced surprise exams by the Quebec Ministry of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion which put into question their eligibility for permanent residence in Quebec.

International students who want permanent residence must work through the Quebec Experience Program, which requires that they pass exams offered by the MIDI. Once they’ve passed those exams, they become eligible for permanent residence.

Recently, many students who have already passed their exams have received surprise letters in the mail asking that they come in for an additional oral examination at the MIDI’s offices.

When they arrive, they are required to speak French for 20 to 30 minutes, and occasionally immigration officials are present. In the past, this has not been part of the process. Many are now complaining to Concordia’s Legal Information Clinic, since they have already completed the exams they were told they needed to be eligible for Quebec residence.

Of those subjected to oral exams, 320 international students in Quebec were deemed unfit for permanent residence, as they were unable to uphold the standards being demanded by the MIDI. Those students may now be unable to apply for residence for the next five years.

The MIDI told Radio Canada this week that from November to March, 585 international students had been called into their offices to be graded on their mastery of spoken French.

The Concordia Student Union, the Association Quebecois des avocats and avocates en droit de l’immigration, and the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec are now making a demand to the minister of immigration, Kathleen Weil, to reverse the decision. They made their demands known at a press conference on April 18.

In a letter addressed to Weil, the l’AQAADI argues that the new exams on spoken proficiency are “in contradiction with the law and unjust.” They say the test creates fear in the majority of students who have to take them.

“The majority of candidates are very nervous throughout the interview, and this can certainly impact their capacity to show their true knowledge of [spoken] French throughout the interview,” the letter to Weil reads.

“The majority of candidates are very nervous throughout the interview, and this can certainly impact their capacity to show their true knowledge of [spoken] French throughout the interview,” the letter to Weil reads.

“The CSU condemns the Department of Immigration of Quebec for it’s lack of equity and transparency when dealing with international students,” said Academic and Advocacy Coordinator Sophia Sahrane.

For those international students affected, Sahrane wants them to know that there are services available to them on campus through the Legal Information Clinic. The CSU also hopes to meet with Weil to discuss solutions.

Sahrane says she is concerned because many international students are already in a very precarious situation. International students who participate in the Quebec Experience Program already must pay a minimum of $5,000, on top of their regular tuition fees.

“The entire interview process is totally outside the law,” said David Chalk, lawyer and former president of l’AQAADI, who explained the exams are supposed to be done through third parties rather than through the MIDI.

The meetings with the MIDI have also focused on checking the authenticity of immigration documents that international student have submitted in the past, through the Quebec Experience Program.

According to Concordia’s Legal Information Clinic, the letters sent to students have accused them of frauding their documents. They state, “[the department has] grounds to believe that you have provided information or a document that is false or misleading regarding your level of knowledge of oral French language.”

“I’m not aware of any single case where there’s any evidence at all of actual fraud,” said Chalk.

Walter Chi-Yan Tom, the Coordinator of Concordia’s Legal Information Clinic. Photo Miriam Lafontaine

Walter Chi-Yan Tom, the Coordinator of Concordia’s Legal Information Clinic, said that the majority of the international students targeted are from China, India, and the Middle East. The Center for Research-Action on Race Relations is calling it an act of racial profiling.

“The Ministry of Immigration apparently does not follow the rule of law and [does not] follow the Constitution and the Charter of Rights in dealing with international students,” said Executive Director at CRARR, Fo Niemi. “We’re talking about practices that have the effect of a dispositionally negative nature against these students who are racialized, and therefore we should raise the question as to whether they’ve been profiled on the basis of race, language and national origin.”

Niemi said it’s unconstitutional because it ignores the presumption of innocence from international students. He also said the process is problematic because those being accused of fraud but are not given the chance to see any evidence that confirms the accusations made against them.

CRARR will soon make a demand to the Quebec Ombudsman, and their hope is that an investigation into the MIDI’s practices can begin.

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