11/04/2011 01:11 EDT | Updated 01/04/2012 05:12 EST

Canadian Immigration: Jason Kenney Announces Two-Year Moratorium On Applications From Immigrants' Parents, Grandparents

OTTAWA - The federal government is imposing a two-year moratorium on immigration applications from parents and grandparents, starting immediately.

But to make up for the restriction, it is creating a 10-year, special visa that will allow parents and grandparents of permanent residents to enter Canada multiple times as visitors and stay for up to two years at a time.

Ottawa is also going to allow in more parents and grandparents next year from the existing — very long — waiting list. The government is targeting admissions of 25,000 people next year, up from a recent annual average of 17,500.

As a result, parents and grandparents will make up nine per cent of the total immigrant inflow of about 255,000 next year, said Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. That's up from the current six per cent.

But with increases for parents and grandparents, as well as previously announced increases in the numbers of foreign skilled workers and white-collar workers with Canadian experience, Kenney is reducing other targets to keep the overall immigrant pool at the same level as in previous years.

So in 2012, there will be thousands fewer business-class immigrants, spouses and live-in caregivers, a newly published list of targets shows.

The package of moves is part of a broader plan to speed up inflows and cut the backlog, especially of parents and grandparents. Kenney said that by the time the moratorium on their applications is lifted, the wait time for processing should fall to about four years from more than eight years.

"We need to change the math" that has led to waiting lists growing relentlessly for years, Kenney told a news conference in Mississauga, Ont.

"Taking no action, for me, is not an option."

If the rules stayed the same, the backlog of parents and grandparents waiting to be processed would climb to about 300,000 within the decade from about 170,000 now, Kenney warned.

He said he had to impose the moratorium without warning to prevent hordes of people rushing to get applications in under the old regime.

Those people would just go to the back of the queue anyway and wait years and years before officials could screen them, Kenney added.

Instead, he's telling those who want to visit their relatives in Canada to use the new visa system.

By creating the new multiple-entry visa, Kenney said Ottawa will have time to fix the backlog without penalizing families hoping to be reunited in Canada.

The new visa will come into effect Dec. 1.

It will likely take just eight weeks to process — as long as applicants fill out the forms correctly, buy private health insurance, pass a medical exam and prove they have family in Canada who can support them here.

The private health-insurance requirement is key for Kenney. He has frequently spoken about his frustration with older immigrants not contributing much to the Canadian economy while relying on the country's extensive social system.

And that's why he couldn't just raise the number of parents and grandparents to really high levels, just to clear the backlog.

"To those who say, 'just admit 60,000 a year,' I say to them, when's the last time you were in an emergency ward?" Kenney said.

The Opposition NDP welcomed the idea of the new visa and was glad to see higher levels of parents and grandparents will be admitted next year.

But immigration critic Don Davies said he is frustrated with the way Kenney is telling the public about his plan for the mix of immigrants for 2012.

Kenney is announcing his targets in dribs and drabs that make it difficult to know who is going to get the short end of the stick, Davies said.

"Who are the losers going to be?" he asked in an interview.

Kenney announced earlier this week that Canada would accept about 255,000 immigrants overall in 2012. He then went on to announce that he would increase targets for foreign skilled workers, white-collar newcomers with skills honed in Canada, PhD students and refugees.

The targets published Friday show that Ottawa plans to increase those groups by about 12,000 in total.

The targets also show that the business class will be reduced by about 3,500 while live-in caregivers will fall by 3,600. Spouses are expected to drop by about 4,000, but Immigration Canada does not have much control over that number and calls it a "projection" rather than a target.

"He is burying the bad news: slashing spousal, caregiver and refugee visas," Davies said. "That's wrong."