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A mother holds the hands of her daughter as they become new Canadians and take the Oath of Citizenship on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 17, 2019.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The federal government has hit pause on a popular immigration program that allows people to sponsor their parents or grandparents to come to Canada.

The parents and grandparents program normally opens for applications once a year, and often in January.

But Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has given notice that the application process for 2020 is being postponed.

“These instructions will allow the Department sufficient time to complete the development of a new application intake management process for the parents and grandparents sponsorship program, to be implemented in 2020,” he wrote in a set of instructions published Dec. 20, and circulated by his department to the public this week.

The application process for the wildly popular program has been reworked several times in recent years after criticism and problems with the system.

Applications used to be accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis in person, but that system was scrapped after people effectively bought their way to the front of the line by hiring couriers to ensure their forms were at the top of the pile.

The Liberals then moved to a lottery system, which was criticized for being too random, and then an online program that in 2019 saw all the spots snapped up within minutes.

The Liberal government promised after that to review the system yet again, but a decision on what would happen for the 2020 program was delayed by the federal election.

The program will reopen at some point next year, according to Mr. Mendicino’s instructions that were posted online.

“The Minister intends to issue further Instructions relating to the intake management process for the parents and grandparents program by April 1, 2020, at the latest.”

About 20,000 people are admitted annually under the parent and grandparent category, but it currently takes about two years to process an application.

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