In the three months since the federal government launched a program to provide permanent residency to some asylum seekers, the number of people living in Quebec who have been approved can be counted on one hand.
Out of 462 asylum seekers who have been able to complete the process, only three live in the province, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Advocates say it's proof the Quebec government is making things too difficult for applicants.
The federal government launched a program last December for so-called "guardian angels" — asylum seekers who worked in health-care facilities during the height of the pandemic.
But Quebec insisted on tougher eligibility rules than the rest of the country.
Juliane, who is only being identified by her first name given her precarious status, is among those living in Quebec who applied for the program. She said her quest for permanent residency has turned into an administrative nightmare.
When the Quebec government issued a call to get more workers in the health-care sector last spring, she stepped up and registered through the province's Je contribue website.
Juliane believes she should qualify for permanent residency, given that she does the duties of a patient attendant. But she was hired as a service assistant, a job title not included in the federal program.
"I give food to people who are sick, I clean them, I help them. I even got COVID after an outbreak," she said.
The province wants applicants to submit all of their pay stubs, copies of each page of their passport. It also wants a letter from their employer outlining average number of weekly work hours, their salary and their main tasks. For Juliane, that's where things are bogging down.
So far, Juliane has not been able to get the regional health board to write a letter confirming the type of work she does.
"It's difficult to get the right documents. It's a big problem. It's long. The CIUSSS doesn't really want to help me."
Employers are not collaborating, advocate says
Quebec's Immigration Ministry stands by its stricter set of criteria.
A spokesperson told Radio-Canada that it's necessary to make sure there are no leaks in the system, and only people who are eligible get approved.
According to the ministry, the discrepancy between the number of Quebecers who have been accepted compared to the rest of Canada is due to the extra steps required for people living in the province. They have to apply for permanent residency at the federal level and for a Quebec selection certificate.
As of Feb. 26, the province had issued 51 certificates as part of this process, according to Radio-Canada. The Quebec government had received requests for a little under 1,500 people.
Due to the stricter rules, advocates say many applicants are getting the runaround from employers.
"When you add bureaucracy, you add misery," said Marjorie Villefranche, the director for Maison d'Haïti. "There are these back and forths with employers that tell them they have other things to do."
Guillaume Cliche-Rivard, who heads a provincial association of immigration lawyers, says he's alarmed by the low number of approved applicants from Quebec.
"One of the big problems, is the proof required by Quebec," Cliche-Rivard said. "The requirements from the ministry are unsuitable for the current crisis."
Cliche-Rivard and Villefranche are hoping to see the program expanded to include other groups of essential workers, such as people who worked as janitors or security guards in health-care facilities. They also believe those who only started working essential jobs during the second wave of the pandemic should not penalized.
On that front, the Quebec government isn't budging.
"Our wish is to respect the commitment that we made to asylum seekers that provided direct care to patients and seniors at the peak of the pandemic," said a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Nadine Girault.
Applications for the federal program will remain open until Aug. 31.