10/31/2012 12:29 EDT | Updated 12/31/2012 05:12 EST

Immigration levels to stay the same in 2013, mix to change: Kenney

OTTAWA - Canada will keep its intake of immigrants the same for the seventh straight year, admitting between 240,000 and 265,000 permanent residents in 2013, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday.

Those numbers include a cut to the federal skilled worker program, with the government planning to admit fewer people under that policy.

Instead, they'll be increasing the number of people accepted under the Canada Experience Class program by about 10,000 people.

That program facilitates permanent residency for people who studied in Canada and then found a job or are already in Canada as temporary foreign workers.

"We believe that immigrants coming through the Canada Experience Class are more likely to quickly succeed based on our data," Kenney said.

"And so what we're looking for is newcomers who are set for success as soon as they get their permanent residency."

An internal government poll suggests there has been a slide in public support for the belief that immigration benefits the economy, a decline Kenney attributed to the difficulty many newcomers have at gaining an economic foothold in Canada.

"When we see 14 per cent unemployment amongst immigrants and many newcomers underemployed, that indicates to a lot of Canadians that we have to reform the system," he said.

Canadians have maintained a relatively positive view on immigration over the last few decades, said Jeffrey Reitz, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto who has conducted his own research on Canadian attitudes on immigration.

Even in recessionary times or after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, support has remained robust, he said.

It's possible any change now is the downside of the current government's aggressive push for reforms of the immigration system.

"They've been repeating over and over that the purpose of this is to ensure a more positive economic outcome. Now, you could say that should reinforce the idea that immigration has a more positive outcome," he said.

"But it could create a backlash and people think, 'Well, there's obviously a problem there and they are trying to fix it.' Maybe that just underscores that there's a problem."

Reitz said increasing the number of people admitted under the Canada Experience Class program is no guarantee of economic success either, since there's no long-term tracking data available.

He said similar programs in Australia have shown that while it's true that people who arrive with a job in hand often still have it a year later, it doesn't seem to stay that way.

"If you look three or four years down the road, the advantage begins to go to the people who have the more general educational background and who are better able to respond to changes in the labour market," he said.

The New Democrats say they're concerned that a focus on economic immigrants is coming at the expense of family reunification programs.

"When somebody comes and their family is with them, they invest in schools, they care about our health care system," said Jinny Sims, the NDP immigration critic.

"They care about the kind of roads we drive on, but when you're here as a temporary foreign worker, your main incentive is to make as much money as you can and also to send it back home."

Kenney said more information on the planned immigration mix for 2013 will be made public on Monday.