05/15/2012 04:11 EDT | Updated 07/15/2012 05:12 EDT

Maple Leaf waving crowd protests changes to Saskatchewan immigration rules

REGINA - Pirubhai Garasiya choked up as he talked about bringing his son to Canada and fears that may not happen now with changes to Saskatchewan's Immigrant Nominee Program.

"All my papers are ready to nominate my son, he is my only son," Garasiya said Tuesday.

"But because of the change, all of a sudden change, I can't sponsor my son here."

Saskatchewan is tightening its immigration rules in an effort to stop people from abusing the system.

Under new rules announced May 2, someone in Saskatchewan can nominate only one family member at a time instead of nominating multiple relatives all at once.

That means, for example, someone who has settled and worked in Saskatchewan for at least six months could nominate a sister and her family to move to the province. But someone with many brothers or sisters can't nominate them all at the same time.

Immigration Minister Rob Norris said most families were only applying to bring one relative and their immediate family to Canada. However, about 550 families have applied to bring between three and 18 relatives, plus their immediate families to the province.

There were also cases of people from other provinces moving to Saskatchewan just to help family members immigrate, but they weren't interested in settling and staying in Saskatchewan.

The change that impacts Garasiya is that nominees in the family category will now also require a job offer, which his son does not have.

"When I heard this news I was surprised, shocked and very much disappointed," he said.

Garasiya immigrated from India in 1994. He settled in Toronto, but moved Saskatoon in 2010 because of Saskatchewan's immigration program.

Garasiya was part of a crowd that waved Canadian flags and carried signs in front of the Saskatchewan legislature Tuesday. They say the changes, announced without notice or a phased-in period, are a betrayal.

"They have to give us at least some time, at least for one year or so, so that the people who already came here, they can sponsor their loved ones or their relatives. The other people who want to move now, they can stop. They can not move just because of this program," he said.

"But we trusted in this government and we came here."

The federal government oversees immigration, but allows provinces to have their own provincial nominee programs.

Norris said people can still sponsor relatives under a federal family reunification program if necessary. The province couldn't wait to implement the changes, he said.

"The risk is that, quite simply, the program with any forewarning would simply be swamped," said Norris.

The Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program is capped at 4,000 nominees per year. The total number of immigrants, however, is about 12,500 because those nominees can bring immediate family members too.

Norris said adding the requirement of a job offer to Saskatchewan's family nominee program will help the province find much-needed workers.

"This connection to the labour market is meant to ensure that those with skills can better connect, (and) more successfully settle right here in Saskatchewan," said Norris.

"We're doing it in co-operation and at the urging and insistence of Ottawa. Essentially, the message from Ottawa — and it's very explicit — is one to help either to improve this category or risk losing it."