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International graduates protest against changes to Prince Edward Island PNP

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The protests have been ongoing since May 9 as the province plans to reduce the number of candidates for permanent residency under the Provincial Nominee Program by 25% by 2024 due to pressure on its health care system and housing market.

The new rules, announced in February, give priority to immigrants working in the province in certain occupations, such as health care and construction. This means that people in retail, food and service industries may not be able to renew their work permits once they expire.

According to a report by CBC, PEI also wants to reduce the number of nominated sales and service employees from over 800 in 2023 to around 200 this year.

Despite a more than 80% drop in study permits issued to Indians in the fourth quarter of last year, 41% of all international students in Canada will be from India by 2023, according to a Reuters report.

Although many of them are known for their enrollment at universities in Ontario and British Columbia, smaller, less populated provinces such as Prince Edward Island have also gained ground in recent years.

But the Dennis King government's plans to slow Prince Edward Island's population growth—the population was expected to grow to 200,000 by 2027/28—came as a surprise to the province's current college graduates-turned-workers.

“We know that there are up to 300 graduates working in retail and service sectors in Prince Edward Island whose work permits are expiring in the next 1-2 months. Many Indian graduates in Prince Edward Island want to stay here and be taken seriously.

“Instead, the rules were changed overnight, which had a profound impact on them,” said Manpreet Kaur, a volunteer with the Montreal Youth Student Organization, an organization that represents the rights of Indian and Punjabi immigrants in Canada.

The three main demands of the demonstrators are:

  • Protection of existing rights in the PNP system. Students who were in Canada before the policy change and had a valid work permit should be allowed to stay under the existing conditions.
  • Fair PNP drawing without points system. Many students are affected by the exclusion of sectors such as sales and services in the recent PNP draw. Protesters claim that the existing points system, which requires 65 points, is almost impossible to achieve for those under 25 years of age.
  • Extension of work permit. This would give protesters more time to meet the new PR requirements; students are demanding an extension of their work permits.

The protests are not limited to the streets. On May 23, about 150 international students turned workers reached the Prince Edward Island Legislative Assembly and called on the province to exclude immigrants already living on the island. The cake learned.

In addition, protesters in Charlottetown have been on a dry hunger strike since May 28, refraining from consuming any liquids, and intend to continue this until their demands are met.

“We are planning a 24/7 hunger strike if the rules are not changed by the end of May,” said an Indian graduate on Prince Edward Island who wished to remain anonymous and protested against the changes.

Although provincial governments in Canada can manage PNPs according to their objectives, the final decision-making authority in managing and finalizing applications for permanent residence in Canada rests with the federally run IRCC.

Because this situation prevents the province from increasing the quota, Prince Edward Island's Minister of Labour and Social Services, Jenn Redmond, has instead suggested that people with expiring work permits enroll in an apprenticeship program in one of the priority areas, which include nursing assistants, truck drivers, construction trades and industrial butchers, among others.

“We need to think about the workforces that are working in these highly pressured areas where we need to focus these resources,” Redmond told CBC.

The changes are also a concern for employers in the province, who questioned King during the Greater Charlottetown Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting about the impact the changes would have on the workforce.

“We are monitoring this very regularly and will make some changes as needed,” King said in response to a question from a chamber member, but vowed to stick to the plan.

We have to think about the workforce who have to deal with these very demanding areas

Jenn Redmond

Protesters have also presented provincial MPs with more than 40 letters addressed to Premier King written by employers in the region calling on the government to exclude people already working in Prince Edward Island.

Many politicians from the Liberals, the Greens and the opposition also supported the workers and described the decision as “cruel and unfair”.

This came a year after scores of Indian graduates across Canada protested against deportation orders for fake admission letters. The deportations were finally stopped after the Canadian government decided to examine each case individually.

According to Daljit Nirman, an Indian-born legal expert and law professor in Ottawa, the frequent protests by Indian and foreign students point to a larger problem in Canada.

“In my opinion, the chaos in various provinces, including Prince Edward Island, is due to aggressive recruitment practices by college and university lobbyists. These for-profit institutions have recruited agents on high commissions, resulting in uncontrolled enrollments of international students.

“This boom has overwhelmed educational infrastructure and local communities, resulting in housing shortages, limited services and reduced quality of education,” Nirman told The PIE.

“Moreover, the government must keep its promises and ensure that students who have come here legally at great financial expense are supported and are not left as victims of past mistakes. Efforts must be made to rehabilitate them and provide them with the necessary support and resources. They must not become victims of sudden policy changes,” Nirman added.