The federal government has placed a temporary freeze on applications to two immigration programs.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says changes to the Skilled Worker Program and the Immigrant Investor Program will reduce backlog.

"We're not reducing the number of immigrants," he said. "We're just reducing the number of applications going into a queue."

But some question the timing of the announcement, which Kenney made in Calgary Thursday.

Kevin Zemp, a Calgary-based lawyer with Global Immigration Services, has been working non-stop with numerous clients who were preparing applications for the Skilled Worker Program with a looming deadline of July 1.

But that effort may have gone to waste.

"It's very unfortunate that the government has decided — right before that cap resets and all of these people have already done the work, already spent the money, already spent the time — to all of a sudden be told, two or three days before, that there is a moratorium."

Close to 300,000 applications to be returned

Zemp says he will have to make some difficult phone calls breaking the bad news to people he has worked with for years.

That's because the government is cancelling close to 300,000 applications in the Skilled Worker Program made before February of 2008.

Kenney says it's the only way to get rid of the backlog and those people are welcome to reapply.

"We still have 110,000 people waiting there. Why put more people at the back of that queue especially right now when we're returning 300,000 people's applications? There's just no point in any longer stockpiling people in the back of a backlog," he said.

"This is the last part of our backlog elimination strategy. As a result of this six-month pause, we will by next year have a very fast system."

The Immigrant Investor Program backlog stands at about 25,000 cases. It has come under scrutiny for allowing people to essentially buy their way into Canada without long-term benefit to the Canadian economy.

Kenney had already announced plans to overhaul the investor program and his intention is to consult with stakeholders, the provinces and territories on how best to reform it.

Applications for the Skilled Worker Program will again be accepted in January 2013 while the freeze on the Immigrant Investor program is indefinite.

With files from The Canadian Press