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Canada Immigration Minister puts brakes on popular skilled labour programs until 2013

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on May 30, 2012.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says it's time to hit the "reset button" and temporarily put the brakes on new applications under two programs popular with skilled workers wanting to come to Canada from abroad.

Kenney told a business audience Thursday that the government is placing a six-month moratorium on the Federal Skilled Worker Program and the Immigrant Investor Program.

"Effective next week we will be issuing a temporary pause on new applications for the federal skilled worker program," Kenney said in a speech to a C.D. Howe immigration conference.

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"This is a way to ensure that improvements to the program have time to be put in place which will give new applicants the opportunity to be even more positioned to succeed in Canada."

Applications for both programs had been scheduled to reopen Sunday.

Kenney was quick to say after his speech that the move will not mean a drop in the number of immigrants coming to Canada.

"This is all about getting to a faster system. The only way we can get to a faster system, which can better connect immigrants with the jobs that are available and so they have higher levels of employment and better incomes, is to get rid of the backlog."

In this year's budget Ottawa announced plans to legislate away a backlog of 280,000 applications made under the skilled worker program before 2008. The government said it's a necessary part of modernizing the immigration system.

Even after removing all those applications, there are plenty of others still waiting, Kenney said.

"We still have 110,000 people waiting there. Why put more people at the back of that queue especially right now when we're returning 300,000 people's applications? There's just no point in any longer stockpiling people in the back of a backlog," he said.

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"This is the last part of our backlog elimination strategy. As a result of this six-month pause, we will by next year have a very fast system."

The Immigrant Investor Program backlog stands at about 25,000 cases. It has come under scrutiny for allowing people to essentially buy their way into Canada without long-term benefit to the Canadian economy.

Kenney had already announced plans to overhaul the investor program and his intention is to consult with stakeholders, the provinces and territories on how best to reform it.

"We're not reducing the number of immigrants. We're just reducing the number of immigrants going into a queue."

Kenney acknowledged that some applicants will be unhappy about the delay, but he suggested they should hold on to their applications and reapply Jan. 1.

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