Quebec Premier François Legault says he will consider giving asylum seekers who work in long-term care homes a chance to stay in the province by applying as immigrants.

Legault opened Monday’s briefing by saying he has asked Immigration Minister Simon-Jolin Barrette to look at the situation, on a case-by-case basis, as a way of saying “thank you.”

The co​​​​mments represent a departure for Legault. The Coalition Avenir Québec premier has previously rejected the idea of giving any kind of preference for asylum seekers and others without status working in essential jobs during the pandemic.

But there have been growing calls for him to recognize their contribution.

On Saturday, supporters held a rally in Montreal and on Sunday, Fabrice Vil, a Montrealer of Haitian background, was critical of the premier on the popular French-language talk show Tout le monde en parle.

Legault, whose government has cut immigration levels, said Monday he would try to strike a balance between giving thanks to those working in the residences, known by their French initials CHSLDs, while at the same time not setting a precedent.

“We have to be careful. I don’t want to send the message that in the future we will accept everybody if they find a job in Quebec,” he said. 

“But we also have another situation where it’s really critical to get more people working in our CHSLD. So those people, they are already working in CHSLDs. So how can we bring them via the normal immigration process? That’s what I’m looking at.”

Legault added his government would also have discussions with the federal government, which is responsible for refugee applications.

While the province says it has no record of the total number of asylum seekers doing work in CHSLDs, advocates say hundreds of people, many of them originally from Haiti, have been working as patient attendants.

Some have already had their refugee claim rejected, and may not be able to stay in Canada when deportations resume.

Protestors rallied outside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Montreal office on Saturday, demanding he do more for asylum seekers who have been risking their lives by working in long-term care homes with COVID-19 outbreaks.

Frantz André, a member of the Action Committee for People without Status in Montreal, the group behind the demonstration, said Legault should be taking a stronger stand on the issue.

While the federal government makes the final decision when it comes to the immigration status of asylum seekers, provincial leaders are able to influence those decisions, he said.

“I think all the parties, including the CAQ, should have said in one voice, ‘Mr. Trudeau, you need to make a decision,'” André told CBC News on Monday.

“We as Quebecers, we are willing to give people an opportunity to be accepted, to be equally Canadian as anybody else.”

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