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Protesters end hunger strike without liquids after speaking with P.E.I.’s top immigration official

Foreign workers protesting recent changes to the P.E.I. government’s immigration policy say they agreed to pause their hunger strike for lack of fluids after meeting with the province’s top immigration official.

One of the protest organizers, Rupinder Pal Singh, said he met with Jeff Young, director of the provincial Immigration Office, on Friday. Singh said Young encouraged the group to suspend their hunger strike while the government considers their demands.

“They have all the information they need; now we are just waiting for answers. As the government is cooperating with us, we will definitely do the same and stop the ongoing hunger strike, as requested and encouraged by the government,” Singh said.

“It seems like they got the message and they’re working on it, and the ball is definitely in their court now, so… we’ll expect more positive responses soon.”

Woman with shoulder-length blonde hair wearing a pink dress and pearls in an office.
Jenn Redmond, P.E.I.’s workforce minister, says more than 12,000 applications have been submitted to the province by people seeking invitations to work and obtain permanent residency on the island. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Speaking to CBC News on Friday afternoon, P.E.I. Labor Minister Jenn Redmond insisted Young had been in contact with protesters during last week’s hunger strike. But she said Friday marked a turning point in those discussions, as more foreign workers voiced their concerns.

Redmond encouraged anyone affected by the province’s immigration policy changes to contact their department or the Immigration Office to discuss paths forward.

“There is interest in learning about other alternative paths that may be available for those who are seeking nominations for our programs and want to know more about that,” he said.

PEI minister urges protesters to contact immigration officials for work permit help

Workforce Minister Jenn Redmond says the P.E.I. government is glad a dry hunger strike has come to a pause, and urges protesters and those with expired work permits to contact provincial officials immigration to apply for help.

“These are really difficult and complicated situations, and we will continue to talk to them to see what other avenues will be available to them. We will continue to keep those lines of communication open.”

Earlier this week, Charlottetown MP Sean Casey urged the province to contact the federal government to discuss extending work permits for those most affected by P.E.I.’s reduction in permanent residency nominations .

Redmond said the government would continue to monitor the situation, but did not commit to making that request to Ottawa.

He said more than 12,000 applications have been submitted to the province’s expression of interest draw for invitations to apply for permanent residency, and the province will only submit 1,590 applicants per year to the program.

“So that’s the reality that we’re working on, and with the state of the province we’re trying to target those sectors that really have gaps around health and education, child care and manufacturing. We’ve had to refocus “.

Recent changes in immigration policy

The group has been protesting in Charlottetown since May 9, and many of them began a hunger strike just over a week ago on the lawn in front of the George Coles Building, where the P.E.I. Legislature is located. On Tuesday night of this week, some of the protesters also stopped drinking liquids to draw attention to their cause.

Protesters outside the Coles building were drinking water and felt more optimistic after speaking to government officials on Friday.
Protesters outside the Coles building were drinking water on Friday afternoon and felt more optimistic after speaking to government officials. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

The group is made up of would-be immigrants and they say their lives have been turned upside down by changes the province made to its immigration policy in February. Those changes make it much more difficult for the province to nominate people who work in sales and services for permanent residence, including people who are already working on the Island.

Most of the protesters are recent graduates of Canadian universities or colleges.

As international students, they received three-year open work permits and came to work on PEI because of its reputation as a relatively easy place to obtain permanent residency. That is the first step to becoming a Canadian citizen.

Doctor worries about medical impact of dry hunger strike among PEI protesters

“I would say they are taking risks…they need some kind of resolution to this, and I hope that people are not driven to these types of states in the future,” says Dr. David Jenkins.

In February, releasing a new population strategy in the face of growing demand for housing and healthcare, the P.E.I. government said it would severely cut the number of nominations in sales and services, from 855 last year to around 215 this year. .

Instead, the province plans to give preference to people with experience in fields related to health care and construction.

Renewed optimism

About seven of the protesters were still on hunger strike due to lack of fluids as of Friday morning, a spokesperson told CBC News earlier in the day. Some had needed medical attention earlier in the week, while protest organizers called on others to voluntarily end their strike for health reasons.

A woman with long dark hair in a ponytail drinks from a water bottle in front of a tent camp.
“It was like an impulse,” says Navpreet Navpreet, one of the protesters, after the group was able to contact provincial officials. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

However, by Friday afternoon, the remaining hunger strikers had begun drinking from water bottles, expressing renewed optimism after finally receiving some communication from the PEI government.

“Before, I was just feeling depressed, but as soon as Rupinder came and gave us the good news, it was like a boost and now a lot of energy came,” said Navpreet Navpreet, whose work permit for a local call center expires. on June 29.

PEI Immigration Director Defends Changes to Permanent Residency Flow

Foreign workers have been protesting in Charlottetown as the Provincial Nominee Program moves away from food service and retail toward the health care, construction and early education sectors. PEI Immigration Director Jeff Young speaks with CBC News: Compass guest host Kerry Campbell about why the changes are happening and who is affected by them.

“It’s like we don’t even care about the hunger and water strike, we just focus on the good news… We are very happy, we are very happy that the government has given us a chance, has talked to us and is focusing about our concerns.”

Singh, who was at the camp and spoke to media during the protest, also offered a broad smile to a CBC News reporter Friday afternoon when speaking about the group’s efforts.

While his hunger strike due to lack of fluids is on pause, he said the protest will continue 24 hours a day, seven days a week until there is a resolution on his request to extend his work permits.

“There is a hope that has now been born within me and every protester, because before this we were simply against a wall, and now we see that there is no more wall,” Singh said. “There is someone we can talk to.”

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