Canada will seek to admit a record number of immigrants as the Liberal government shifts its focus on family reunification and the settlement of refugees, says Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum.

"This plan sends a message about the importance of family," McCallum said in Brampton, Ont., on Tuesday.

"It outlines a significant shift in immigration policy towards reuniting more families, building our economy and upholding Canada's humanitarian traditions to resettle refugees and offer protection to those in need."

McCallum said Canada will admit between 280,000 and 305,000 new permanent residents in 2016, a record increase from the 260,000 to 285,000 newcomers the previous Conservative government had planned to welcome by the end of 2015.

The Liberal plan will see Canada admit:

  • 151,200 to 162,400 caregivers, provincial nominees, and other skilled workers under the economic stream.
  • 75,000 to 82,000  spouses, partners, children, parents and grandparents of Canadians under the family reunification plan.
  • 51,000 to 57,000 refugees, protected persons and others admitted for humanitarian reasons.​

The Liberal plan also includes admitting 18,000 privately sponsored refugees, "three times more than in earlier years," McCallum said.

The government has resettled some 25,000 Syrians, a mix of government-assisted and privately sponsored refugees, in four months. The Liberals have also pledged to resettle another 10,000 government-assisted Syrian refugees by the end of 2016.

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Reviewing sponsorship conditions

McCallum said the government will review some of the conditions imposed on Canadians looking to sponsor their children and spouses living overseas, making family reunification a priority.

"The government of Canada will make family reunification an important priority because when families are able to stay together, their integration to Canada and ability to work and grow their communities all improve," McCallum said in a much-anticipated report tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.​

"We will work to restore the maximum age for dependants to 22 from 19 and re-examine the two-year conditional permanent residence provision for sponsored spouses."

In its annual report to Parliament, the Liberal government is also pledging to:

  • Eliminate the $1,000 labour market impact assessment (LMIA) fee for families looking to hire caregivers for family members with physical and mental disabilities. An LMIA is a document employers must file to prove the need to hire a foreign worker over a Canadian one.
  • Review the express entry system launched in January 2015 "to provide more opportunities" for applicants who have Canadian siblings.
  • "Expand and monitor the use of biometrics" to verify the identity of all temporary and permanent residents  who need a visa or permit to enter Canada.

Fewer economic immigrants

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel denounced the government's decision to admit fewer economic immigrants.

"These cuts to economic immigration come at a time when our workforce is aging, our economy is slowing, and refugees are waiting for months to have long-term affordable housing," Rempel said during question period,

She said the government's changes to the caregivers program would "leave the most vulnerable Canadians without care." 

While the Liberals have doubled the cap to 10,000 parent and grandparent sponsorship applications, they hope to issue up to 20,000 visas — a target that remains unchanged from last year.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said she is "disappointed" to see the level for parents and grandparents sponsorship stay the same as it was under the Conservatives.

"With the doubling of applications and the same level as the Conservatives, we can expect the wait times to get even worse," Kwan said in a written statement to CBC News.

The Liberals have budgeted an additional $25 million to reduce application processing times in 2016-17, followed by an additional $50 million a year for the next three years.

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Some 'significant barriers' remain​

The government has also committed to reviewing express entry but immigration lawyer Mark Holthe said there is little in the report to suggest there will be significant changes for international students or temporary foreign workers who were hit the hardest by the new system launched by the previous Conservative government in 2015.

"There was token lip service to the value of each of these groups within Canadian immigration policy, but in the end, nothing was done to address the significant barriers they face in qualifying for permanent resident status in Canada," said Holthe, a partner at the law firm of Holthe Tilleman in Calgary.

According to the annual immigration report tabled in Parliament Tuesday, "Canada's immigration system balances compassion with economic opportunity."

Holthe said he would like the new plan to provide "equal chance at immigration for temporary foreign workers, international students, family members and refugees alike."

The Department of Immigration plans to spend $1.7 billion in 2015-16, up from $1.3 billion in 2014-15. The increase is attributed to the Liberals' commitment to fast-track the resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees.

Planned spending is forecast at $1.6 billion in 2016-17.