04/18/2013 01:39 EDT | Updated 06/18/2013 05:12 EDT

Federal Court backs government in immigration suit

OTTAWA - The rights of would-be immigrants were not trampled when the Conservative government closed their files and refunded their application fees to get rid of a massive backlog, the Federal Court has ruled.

The court's decision came out as the Tories pushed ahead with plans to reopen the federal skilled-worker program to a select group of in-demand occupations that includes engineers of all stripes, medical professionals and computer programmers.

Eight applicants from places as diverse as the Philippines, Syria, Pakistan and China — who in turn represented about 1,400 potential immigrants — went to court over the Conservatives' move, announced in last year's federal budget, to wipe out an existing backlog in the skilled-workers program by returning and refunding thousands of applications.

In a decision released Thursday, Federal Court Justice Donald Rennie said the move did not break any rules or violate the applicants' charter rights.

However, he sympathized with the plight of those who had their applications tossed.

"As noted earlier, the applicants have waited in the queue for many years only to find the entrance door closed," Rennie wrote in his decision.

"They see the termination of their hope for a new life in Canada to be an unfair, arbitrary and unnecessary measure."

The government stopped accepting new applications under the federal skilled-worker program last July in advance of rejigging the system.

On Thursday, Citizenship and Immigration Canada unveiled its list of the 24 occupations that qualify under the revamped federal skilled-worker program, which is set to re-open May 4.

The department also named four organizations that will assess the credentials of applicants who studied outside of Canada. These assessments are now mandatory and must be done before applications to the skilled-worker program are submitted.

Ottawa is also limiting the total number of applications to 5,000 — including caps in each of the 24 eligible occupations.

A different kind of foreign-worker flap has lately been a thorn in the side of Stephen Harper's Conservatives.

The opposition parties have raised questions about temporary foreign workers replacing Canadian workers in jobs for which there appears to be no labour shortage, such as cashiers at fast-food restaurants.

But the Conservatives say their rivals are hypocrites, and released several letters written by New Democrat and Liberal MPs — including a 2009 letter from newly minted Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau — seeking approval for temporary foreign-worker permits on behalf of their constituents.