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Wednesday, 19 December, 2001, 11:02 GMT
Canada tougher on skilled immigrants
Vancouver skyline
The new rules affect those who have already applied
By the BBC's Ian Gunn in Vancouver

The Canadian Government has announced changes to its immigration policy that could affect hundreds of thousands of would-be immigrants.

The new rules for people applying as skilled workers will make it much harder to qualify for Canadian citizenship.

The regulations, which were unveiled this week, are retroactive and will also apply to people who have already applied to immigrate to Canada.

The people who've been waiting five year as Canada tells them 'Don't worry' will no longer qualify

Vancouver immigration lawyer Rudolph Kischer
The Canadian Government says the new rules will modernise and streamline the immigration system. But critics say the changes are too harsh.

The Canadian Government announced the new immigration regulations quietly and with very little fanfare, but the effects could be dramatic.

For the first time, immigrants hoping to start a new life in Canada as skilled workers will have to be proficient in one of the country's two official languages: English or French.

They will also have to have at least a master's degree or several years of work experience and either a job or family in Canada already.

That is a marked change from the old rules, which were less rigorous about language skills and were happy with a bachelor's degree.

Waiting applicants

But perhaps the most startling news for would-be immigrants is that the new rules will apply retroactively.

Chinese immigrants on a ship near Canada
Canada is an attractive destination for immigrants, illegal and legal
Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Rudolph Kischer says the changes are going to affect hundreds of thousands of people who are already waiting to have their applications processed by Canadian officials.

"The people who've been waiting for five years to come to Canada patiently as Immigration Canada tells them 'don't worry - we're going to process your application in time' will no longer qualify," he says.

Canadian Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan is quick to play down those concerns.

She says it will be six months before the changes come into effect.

And, she notes, new rules will make sure new Canadians can more easily adapt to an economy that demands high levels of education, experience and skill.

Immigration lawyers, though, say it is more likely that the government sees the new rules to as a quick way to thin out the huge piles of applications from people wanting to become Canadians.

See also:

11 May 00 | Americas
Boat people sent back to China
21 Mar 00 | World
Greying West 'needs immigrants'
02 Jul 99 | South Asia
Skilled immigrants 'create jobs'
06 Feb 01 | Programme highlights
Immigration policy to be overhauled
11 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Green card 'may solve skills shortage'
19 Apr 00 | Europe
Italy: Immigration or extinction
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