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Feds retreat on immigration rules

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OTTAWA — The federal government will refund 70,000 would-be immigrants $70 million in application fees they paid to come to Canada, Immigration Minister Denis Coderre said yesterday.

In making the announcement, the newly appointed minister backed down from controversial new immigration rules imposed by his predecessor, Elinor Caplan.

Coderre said he expects the refund decision, along with new rules governing the point system that grades would-be immigrants based on their qualifications, will send a signal to the world that Canada welcomes skilled workers.

The point-system rule change maintains the passing grade for foreigners who want to come to Canada at 70 points out of 100 rather than 80.

Points are given for age, education, experience, language and adaptability.

Coderre said he maintained the lower score for now because it’s fairer to those already in the system, but he added he’s prepared to overhaul the criteria of the point system in the future.

The refunds apply to those would-be immigrants who submitted their applications before December 17.

The rule change, which in effect maintains the old criteria, will only be in effect until June, at which time the passing grade will be increased to 80.

The refund and the rule change address several complaints – many raised by Liberal MPs in multicultural ridings – that the new Immigration Act passed last fall makes it much more difficult to become a landed immigrant.

Critics argued the law changed the ground rules for applicants who had already paid non-refundable processing fees of $500 per adult and $100 per child. They said it was particularly offensive considering there is a backlog of about 220,000 applicants in the system and accused the government of changing the rules to reduce the backlog.

Immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman said the changes are significant.

“I think they realized, given the vehemence of the response both in the caucus and in the public, that they couldn’t change the rules retroactively without notification,” said Waldman.

“They were on very weak ground. This is a major backtracking.”

Liberal MP Steve Mahoney, chairman of the Commons immigration committee, lauded the changes as “a first step” but said “there’s still some surgery that needs to be done” in the selection criteria.