Immigration Minister Denis Coderre announced Thursday that he is loosening up the selection process for thousands of applicants caught in limbo when the government changed immigration rules last year.
Mr. Coderre said he would allow the old rules to apply to a backlog of about 100,000 immigration applicants. They will now be allowed to apply to Canada under the old set of rules that place fewer barriers to entry.
"An important objective of the IRPA (Immigration and Refugee Protection Act) was to create a system that is flexible," the minister said. "Today's changes to the IRPA reflect this flexibility."
A more restrictive immigration law that became effective in the spring of 2002 had required those backlogged applicants to qualify under the new rules even though they had originally applied before those rules came into force.
Mr. Coderre came under fire from immigration lawyers and a federal court judge, who said the grandfathering of the restrictive rules was unfair.
"The court has suggested that more is required of the government. I have listened to that message."
At a press conference to announce the changes in Ottawa, Mr. Coderre said: "We have to find a way to be fair, we have to find a way to be efficient, we have to find a way to save taxpayers money.
"And I believe that when there's a will there's a way. This is my way that I propose today."
Mr. Coderre also said he would lower the bar on a point system to allow people into the country that some immigration lawyers had said was too high.
Instead of being required to score at least 75 points, immigrants will now need only 67.
He said while the pass marks are to be changed, applicants will still need to meet the basic requirements of language levels, education and experience.
"However, we realized that some people felt that the assessment chart did not meet our goals because it wasn't flexible enough. They felt that the new system was slower than was anticipated."
Mr. Coderre emphasized that immigration is an continuing issue and that his department would continue to evaluate how the system is working.
"The bottom line is to have a balanced approach between fairness and at the same time to keep all those goals that we want to reach," he said.
Kevin MacTavish, a Toronto immigration lawyer with Goldman Sloan Nash & Haber, who has worked exclusively on immigration cases for a decade, told globeandmail.com Thursday that he welcomes the changes.
"I'm grateful that the minister made this decision," Mr. MacTavish said.
Under the 2002 law, he said, about half of his clients no longer qualified.
"The pass of 75 was way too high," he said.
He provided a fictitious example of a man with a PhD from Harvard with several years of experience.
Under the 2002 law, if the man was unmarried and had no connection to Canada, he would not qualify, Mr. MacTavish said, calling the rules "unnecessarily harsh."
Although the Immigration department's easing of restrictions will put more people back into the system, Mr. MacTavish noted that now, thousands more applicants will need to be processed.
He said the government will need to either process applications more effectively or hire more employees.
Mr. Coderre noted that the changes are also being made to address the fact that Canada is still facing a serious shortage of skilled workers for the next five years.
"It's important that we're not losing any opportunities."
Canada currently allows between 220,000 and 245,000 people to immigrate each year. New targets are expected in about a month.
With reports from Canadian Press