Canada is no longer accepting applications from people who want to join their children or grandchildren in Canada, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Friday.

The citizenship and immigration minister also announced a new super visa for people who want to visit their family members. The 10-year visa would allow them to stay for up to two years at a time. People will have to have private medical insurance and meet a minimum annual income level of around $17,000 to have their parents or grandparents accepted.

Kenney also announced the government is increasing by 60 per cent the number of parents and grandparents who will be accepted every year, bringing it to 25,000 from 15,300 last year.

The purpose is to clear a backlog of 180,000 applications while the government takes the time to consult Canadians and provincial governments about how to change the family reunification system, he said.

Kenney says he wants to avoid another backlog — under which it can take seven years or more to be accepted — and make sure the system is financially sustainable.

"If we leave the program open for applications during that period of consultation and redesign, we know what will happen. We will get absolutely flooded [with applications]," he said, as immigration lawyers and consultants anticipate changes.

"We’ll never be able to deal with the backlog. That’s why it is absolutely essential that we bring in a temporary pause on incoming applications as part of our action plan."

Super visas

Kenney softened the blow of the freeze by announcing his department is introducing super visas, which should take as little as eight weeks to process, he said.

Applications received now, he said, would end up at the back of the seven to eight year waitlist anyway.

"We ask those people to be patient, to use the new super visa that we're offering them so mom and dad can come and visit the grandkids in Canada for an extended period, allow us a bit of time to get the backlog down, speeding up the wait times, and open up the redesigned program in two years time," Kenney said.

He says he expects the wait time to be closer to four years, with about 80,000 people in the queue, when the program re-opens.

NDP Immigration critic Don Davies says the move isn't fair, especially without giving notice.

"I think there's an awful lot of people in this country who came to this country under rules that permitted them to sponsor their parents, and they're not going to be able to do so," he said.

Acceptance rate cut since 2006

A statement from the Chinese Canadian National Council says the target number of parents and grandparents accepted has dropped from 20,000 in 2006 to 15,000 in 2010. A spokesman for the council says they'd like to see the entire family approved at the start of the immigration process.

"A temporary visa, even though it's a long-term one, actually can create a two-tiered status among families," Victor Wong, the council's executive director, told CBC News. Those who enter under the visitor's visa will have to be careful about medical costs and won't be able to work with a separate visa, he said.

Kenney has spent much of the week talking about next year's targets and changes within Canada's immigration system. Earlier this week, he and Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science and technology, announced a change that will allow international students earning their PhDs in Canada to apply to become Canadian under a skilled worker program. It could mean faster processing for those in programs that qualify.

About two-thirds of immigrants to Canada don't enter as economic immigrants, Kenney says. The majority of new Canadians enter as children, spouses, parents or grandparents of economic immigrants.

with files from Louise Elliott