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Will Liberals become the first Canadian government to admit 300,000 new immigrants in one year?

Business groups fear refugees and immigrant families will crowd out spaces for foreign workers in Canada

Provinces and industry groups are waiting for Immigration Minister John McCallum to say whether there'll be fewer economic immigrants entering the country.

Chris Young / Canadian Press Provinces and industry groups are waiting for Immigration Minister John McCallum to say whether there’ll be fewer economic immigrants entering the country.

OTTAWA — Provinces and businesses keen to bolster their workforce are worried the push for Syrian refugees this year will lead to a cutback in foreign workers.

The government admits a set number of immigrants each year. In 2015, for example, the Conservative government planned to admit up to 285,000 immigrants. Of those slots, 66 per cent were reserved for economic immigrants; 24 per cent of the slots were for the family members of immigrants; and the remaining 10 per cent were for refugees and other humanitarian entrants.

The federal government is supposed to provide its immigration admission numbers by Oct. 31 each year. Because of last fall’s federal election, the numbers for 2016 haven’t yet been published. The government now has until March 9 to come up with its plan.

But with tens of thousands more refugees being admitted this year compared to 2015, and with the Liberals’ campaign promise to make it easier for immigrants to reunite with their parents and grandparents, the number of slots reserved for economic immigrants may be reduced.

Immigration Minister John McCallum said last week he has consulted with industry, as well as refugee groups and other organizations about this year’s immigration levels. But he wouldn’t say whether the government is considering reducing the number of economic immigrants allowed.

Critics often accused the Conservatives of turning Canada’s immigration system into little more than a hiring program, with refugees and families being given short shrift. In 2007, foreign workers represented only 60 per cent of immigration admission targets. with 26 per cent family members and 14 per cent refugees.

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Under last year’s plan, Canada was expected to accept only about 14,000 refugees from around the world. But Canada will admit at least 25,000 Syrian refugees this year, plus thousands more Colombians, Eritreans and Congolese thanks to previous commitments to the UN.

One option the government could pursue is an overall expansion of the immigration program. Some wonder if the Liberals will become the first Canadian government to admit 300,000 new immigrants in one year.

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