Quebec lawyers try to save immigrant applications amid crackdown

MONTREAL (Reuters) - Lawyers in the Canadian province of Quebec on Friday asked a judge to halt the suspension of almost 20,000 applications by immigrants caught up in a crackdown by the new center-right government.

Draft legislation by the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) has triggered the suspension of 18,000 applications made under existing laws from immigrants seeking to live in the predominantly French-speaking province. The CAQ, which won power in October, has said that the reforms would improve newcomers’ integration into the workforce.

Lawyer group Association québécoise des avocats et avocates en droit de l’immigration asked Quebec Superior Court Justice Frederic Bachand to order the government to process existing newcomers’ applications as the bill is being debated.

“This situation is a catastrophe for us,” said Seeun Park, a nurse and plaintiff in the case who came to Quebec with her two children from South Korea in 2017.

“We already invested a lot of money and efforts end energy to work in Quebec,” she told reporters on Friday outside the courtroom in Montreal.

A spokesman for the province’s immigration minister declined to comment on Friday, saying the matter was before the court.

The CAQ campaigned on a pledge to cut immigration from 50,000 to 40,000 people a year and expel new residents who fail to pass tests on French and Quebec values within three years.

The policy could put Quebec on a collision course with the Liberals of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who are hoping to make gains in the province to offset expected losses elsewhere in a federal election this October.

Last year federal officials stressed that Ottawa had overall responsibility for immigration law in Canada.

Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Richard Chang