Canada will allocate more resources and staff to its New Delhi mission to speed up processing of immigration applications.
Making this announcement on Tuesday as part of proposed immigration changes, Diane Finley, minister of citizenship and immigration, said $109 million will be allocated over five years to hire more visa staff to speed up application processing in places where waiting time is the longest.
Since waiting time in India goes beyond five years, the minister said: "Missions, such as Delhi (and Manila), will receive additional resources to help improve wait times for permanent residence applications, international students and temporary foreign workers."
Outlining her so-called "principles" in defence of the proposed changes, which give the minister sweeping powers, Finley tried to fears about cuts in immigration from certain countries.
The proposed changes will help only streamline the immigration system and reduce the 900,000-plus backlog, she said.
"The aim of the changes is to modernise Canada's immigration system and significantly reduce the time it takes to bring newcomers and their families to Canada," Finley said.
Under the proposed changes, the minister will have the authority to issue instructions to immigration officers to fast-track applicants who will have jobs available in Canada.
In this way, the minister said, newcomers will have more opportunities to find work sooner, provide a better life for themselves and their families.
If the amendment is passed, all applications submitted after February 27, 2008, will be processed under the new Act.
The immigration minister can issue instructions to identify priority occupations based on input from provinces and territories, the Bank of Canada, Human Resources and Social Development Canada, employers and organised labour.
On the basis of market needs, applications would be processed faster, complying with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which forbids discrimination on the basis of country of origin, race and religion.
However, the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), which has moved a motion to block the changes, blasted Finley, saying: "The minister's 'just trust me' attitude is shocking.
"Immigrant families are legitimately concerned about these changes and this minister has done nothing to prove that she won't cut and delay family reunification."
NDP leader Olivia Chow said: "The minister says she wants to bring more doctors to Canada yet we see many foreign trained doctors already living in Canada who are not able to practice medicine, even after being licensed."
She added: "This bill is not about bringing in more doctors. It is not about skilled labour - it's about cheap labour. It's about bringing thousands more low-paid and often exploited workers."