The Tories have slipped significant changes into Canada's immigration laws into a budget implementation bill introduced in the Commons Friday.

The changes, which amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, were included in the budget bill, making them a confidence matter. If they're passed, the changes would speed up the processing of applications for skilled workers, but they would also throw other claimants to the back of the line and reject others outright.

The bill will likely become law, unless the Liberals -- who have abstained or voted with the Tories on recent confidence motions -- vote against the bill with support from other opposition MPs.

The Tories say the immigration reforms would streamline backlogs in immigration applications, which they say have swelled over the years.

"Under the previous government (the permanent residence application) number ballooned from 50,000 to 800,000 ... It used to take three to six months to get an application processed. Now it takes three to six years," Immigration Minister Diane Finley told CTV Newsnet's Mike Duffy Live.

The legislation would give Ottawa the power to prioritize which claimant categories will be placed at the top and which will be relegated to the bottom.

Finley hasn't said which categories will be bumped up on the priority list and which will end up on the bottom. But she claimed the legislation could make it faster to process all immigrant applications.

Finley said changes are needed because Canada's workforce will need additional workers in the years ahead.

"Everywhere I go, employers from every sector are telling me they're just screaming for help... Whether it's people to wash dishes and make sandwiches, or whether it's the highly skilled engineers, medical professionals. There are shortages right across the country," she said.

Under the bill:

  • The immigration minister would have the power to reject applications by individuals already determined to be inadmissible by immigration officers.
  • The minister would also be able to set limits on the types of immigrants that can have their applications processed in a given year.
  • Also, any claimant seeking to immigrate to Canada on humanitarian grounds would already have to be in the country to have their application processed.

The Liberals are accusing the Tories of shutting out immigrants and say the changes will mean fewer immigrants will enter Canada.

"The government is so desperate to close the door on immigrants that it will ignore the painful mistakes of previous Conservative governments that tried to do the very same thing,'' Liberal MP David McGuinty told The Canadian Press.

"(Former Canadian prime minister John) Diefenbaker tried to shut out immigrants by capping the system only to abandon his plan a month later because his policies were short-sighted and misguided ... Why does the minister insist on closing Canada's doors to the newcomers we desperately need to fuel our labour and our population growth even though history shows this is absolutely the wrong approach?"

The NDP and Bloc Quebecois took a swipe at both the Tories and the Liberals. They say if the Liberals really want to help immigrants they would vote against the bill.

"I find it a bit sad to see the Conservatives profiting from the fact that the Liberals don't really want to show their true colours -- that they're not ready to defeat the government," said Bloc MP Pierre Paquette.

With files from The Canadian Press