Canada will start accepting some PhD students to boost the country's science, technology and math sectors, the government said Wednesday.

Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science and technology, announced the government is expanding the federal skilled worker category to include PhD students in certain streams, noting the country lacks people with expertise in science, technology, engineering and math. 

Goodyear made the announcement at the same press conference where the government was focusing on the success of the Canadian experience class, which is aimed at skilled temporary foreign workers and international students who want to stay in Canada.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who Wednesday welcomed the 10,000th permanent resident to enter Canada through the program, said Canada used to send people who wanted to become citizens back to their country of origin to have them start on the seven-year waitlist.

Before the program, "we would say excellent. You now have a degree or a diploma that will be recognized by a Canadian employer, you have some work experience in Canada, you have perfected your English or French language skills … now please leave the country and if you want to immigrate, get in the back of a seven-year-long queue," Kenney said.

"That didn’t make any sense at all. Because these are folks who are pre-integrated, they are set for success."

To be eligible for the skilled worker program, PhD students need to have done at least two years of study toward the degree and be in good standing at a recognized post-secondary institution in Canada. They can start applying Nov. 5.

Graduates who are less than a year out of the program are also eligible to apply.

Goodyear said expanding the program tells innovators around the world that Canada is ready to welcome their ideas.

"Research in these fields contributes greatly to our overall national competitiveness in the global market," he said.

New targets

The news conference comes the day after Kenney tabled in the House of Commons the government's immigration targets for the next year.

Last year, Canada admitted 280,681 permanent residents, an 11.3 percent increase from 2009 and the highest level in 50 years, the report says. Nearly 67 per cent of total admissions came as economic immigrants.

Kenney is holding the 2012 targets at the same level as the previous five years.

"The admission range of 240,000 to 265,000 is maintained for the sixth consecutive year, reaffirming the commitment to sustained immigration levels to continue to fulfil the department’s objectives," the report says.

Kenney told MPs last month that Canada needs to accept fewer applications in the family class of immigrants, which has a large backlog. He said speeding up processing alone won't take care of the backlog of parents and grandparents trying to join family members in Canada.

NDP Immigration critic Don Davies says he applauds the move.

"It’s a good system. I like what I’m hearing about getting more PhDs integrated into our system…but it shouldn’t come at the expense of other classes of immigrants," Davies said.

He says Kenney's own department has reported it's possible to increase immigration targets, which have been stable for the past few years, and says Canada could see a labour shortage as soon as five years from now.

"How do we meet that labour challenge if we are using numbers that were the same as the last five years?