The federal government has made some changes to the express entry immigration program, awarding more points to applicants who have siblings in Canada and those who have strong French language skills.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen announced the changes Monday morning at a centre for immigrants in Markham, Ont., just north of Toronto.

Under the express entry program, applicants can score a total of 1,200 points depending on their education, training, work experience and language skills. The program was launched by the previous Conservative government as a way of fast-tracking permanent residency for highly skilled foreigners.

Starting on Tuesday, the express entry system will begin awarding 15 points to candidates who have siblings in Canada. The sibling must be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident aged 18 or older. 

“Studies have shown that as newcomers build a new life in Canada, those with siblings benefit by having improved integration into Canadian society,” Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said in an update on its website.

Previously, no points were awarded to applicants with siblings in Canada.

The program will also start awarding up to 30 additional points to candidates with strong French-language skills, depending on their language test results.  The additional points can be awarded regardless of whether the candidate also has English language skills.

“French-speaking newcomers contribute to the growth, vitality and prosperity of Francophone minority communities across Canada,” the government said.

Up until now, express entry candidates also had to create a Job Bank account if they didn’t have a valid job offer. The Job Bank registration will be voluntary as of Tuesday.

In a statement Monday, Hussen said the changes will help Canada “welcome more skilled immigrants” whose siblings can help them integrate faster and who can contribute to the country’s Francophone communities.

In 2016, nearly 34,000 invitations to apply for permanent residence were issued to express entry candidates.