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OTTAWA — The government is expected to issue a moratorium on new immigration applications under the popular Federal Skilled Worker Program and the Immigrant Investor Program, Postmedia News has learned.
Both programs were set to reopen to new applicants on July 1, but efforts are underway to revamp the programs by the end of the year.
The government doesn't want to process new applications until it's dealt with the existing backlogs and put in place a "just-in-time" economic immigration system, probably by January.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is expected to announce the new directive in Calgary Thursday during a speech to the C.D. Howe Institute.
The decision means Citizenship and Immigration's central intake office in Sydney, N.S. won't be bombarded by applications from wealthy foreigners who last year chartered planes so they could be the first to submit their paperwork for the Immigrant Investor Program after it was capped at 700 applicants.
The cash-for-visa scheme is so attractive that last year's application window closed within 30 minutes.
Kenney has argued the minimum investment of $800,000 — it was just $400,000 in 2010 — remains too low and that it should be a permanent investment in the Canadian economy.
Right now, provinces get the cash to invest in economic development projects but must pay back the principal five years later.
Kenney said in April that legislation was coming to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to give him more power and flexibility to create, change or cancel specialized programs like this one based on market demand and proven effectiveness.
He said he also was launching consultations with stakeholders and provincial and territorial colleagues on how best to reform the investor program.
Earlier this month, officials said consultations were ongoing and that the new powers were contained in the omnibus budget bill set to become law by the end of the week.
The Immigrant Investor Program backlog currently stands at about 25,000 cases involving more than 86,000 people.
Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based immigration lawyer and longtime critic of the investor program, said the decision makes sense.
"Why not hold off until you're ready to launch a new program with higher eligibility thresholds?" he said.
"There's plenty of inventory to process. We don't need to add inventory."
He's less enthusiastic about the temporary pause on federal skilled workers, however, noting Canada needs people like nurses and pharmacists and that there's value in setting a predictable date on which the intake doors are opened.
He noted many already have couriered their applications and that this will mean more stress and additional costs for applicants.
The budget bill also will eliminate about 280,000 visa applications submitted under the Federal Skilled Worker Program before February 2008 by refunding their application fees to the tune of $130 million. The move effectively will reduce the skilled worker backlog to about 110,000.
Last year the government capped the number of applications it accepts from federal skilled workers without prearranged offers of employment at 10,000.
Kenney has called for a faster, more flexible immigration system that's economically-driven and designed to attract workers with strong language skills, employment credentials that are in demand by the current labour market and Canadian experience.
He's announced a variety of initiatives to that end, including replacing the entrepreneur program with a startup visa and allowing employers and provinces to cherry-pick immigrants based on occupation.
The moratorium is expected to be lifted once the full plan is in place.
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