Quebec is planning to close a pathway to immigration available to international students who attend unsubsidized private colleges.
The new rules, announced Tuesday by the provincial government in collaboration with Ottawa, will go into effect for those enrolling after September 2023.
Only those who have completed a study program in a public or subsidized private college will be able to get a work permit.
The possibility of a work permit was a major selling point for unsubsidized colleges, which charge as much as $25,000 annually in tuition.
In Quebec, the number of students from India in particular has skyrocketed, from 2,686 in 2017-2018 to 14,712 two years later. Most of them attend private, non-subsidized colleges.
Foreign students from India on rise in Quebec
Reporting by CBC News has shed light on poor management at some of the colleges. In the case of three colleges that suddenly shut down last year, many students have still not had their tuition reimbursed and others were left in legal limbo.
A 2021 report by Quebec's Ministry of Higher Education revealed shortcomings around recruitment, commercial practices, governance and teaching conditions at 10 private colleges.
Changes meant to address 'integrity issues'
Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet and Ottawa Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said in a joint statement the change aimed to "address gaps brought to light" by the investigation regarding "certain unsubsidized private colleges."
According to the statement, it will "ensure that Quebec is not used as a gateway for settling permanently in Canada. In the other provinces, international students who have followed an unsubsidized program of study generally do not have access to this work permit."
In an interview, Boulet said there were issues with the "integrity" of the system.
"We will harmonize with what is done everywhere else in Canada," he said.
"Unsubsidized private schools used this post-graduation work permit to recruit [and] attract people who benefited from our school system, then went elsewhere in Canada," he said.
He added that "international students are a tremendous assets socially, culturally and economically for Quebec society as a whole."
'We did nothing wrong,' college head says
Private colleges were quick to denounce the decision. The National Association of Career Colleges issued a statement saying it was disappointed by the decision, arguing such colleges play an important role in the province and the country as a whole.
"Our industry has, for many months, tried to engage the Quebec government to understand their questions or concerns pertaining to the post-graduate work permit and find workable solutions together," said Michael Sangster, the CEO of the association.
Michael McAllister, director general of Herzing College in Montreal, said his institution, which was founded in 1968, is among those being punished for the problems at a select number of colleges.
"We did nothing wrong and we're getting penalized," he said. McAllister would have liked to work with the provincial government to come up with a plan that helps meet the province's labour shortage and recruit more international students who speak French.
Harleen Kaur, who is originally from India, has been advocating on behalf of students and said she feels international students are also being blamed for the poorly run colleges.
She said the province could have instead made sure colleges are better regulated instead.
"I think the government needs to communicate with the colleges and look deeper into this," she said.
The change comes more than a year after the release of the province's report on the private colleges and only days before the National Assembly session wraps up for the summer ahead of the Oct. 3 election.
Martin Maltais, an expert in higher education policy and a professor at Université du Québec à Rimouski, said the move was a simpler, quicker way to address the problems with unsubsidized private colleges, in lieu of more complicated legislative reforms.
"That's probably the fastest way to act and and have results," he said.