Canada's government unveiled changes to its immigration policy Monday, including plans to take in up to 300,000 new immigrants annually within the next five years.

Immigration Minister Joe Volpe (search), in a report on immigration introduced in the lower House of Commons, said Canada accepted nearly 236,000 immigrants last year, facilitated 2,000 international adoptions and reunited 6,000 refugee spouses and children with their families.

He said Canada intends to accept as many as 255,000 new immigrants next year.

"Looking to the future, more successful and well integrated newcomers in all parts of Canada are key to nation building and to our economic prosperity," Volpe said in his annual report on immigration.

Volpe told The Globe and Mail newspaper in Monday's editions that Ottawa (search) was "desperate for immigration" and would be prepared to accept as many as 300,000 immigrants a year within five years. He did not return calls seeking further comment.

In his report, Volpe said Ottawa plans to hire more temporary workers to tackle the enormous backlog of 700,000 prospective immigrants. Applicants can wait of as long as four years to have their applications processed in Canadian missions around the world.

Canada — a vast country slightly larger than the United States, though much of it in the frigid north — has only 33 million people, compared with the U.S. Census (search) estimate of 297 million people in the United States today.

According to the most recent national census in 2001, 18.4 percent of Canada's population was foreign-born.

Volpe said Citizenship and Immigration Canada had met the target for immigration for the past five years, with more than 220,000 people obtaining permanent residency annually since 2000.

"To succeed, we must make the system work better. It is not enough to have people come to our country," Volpe said. "Equally important, we need them to be successful once they are here to ensure that both immigrants and Canada fully benefit from the skills and talents newcomers bring."

Canada is often criticized for attracting highly educated immigrants, who then complain that their professional credentials are not accepted. Many foreign doctors and engineers end up working as taxi drivers and waiters. Statistics Canada has found that recent immigrants earn less than their Canadian-born counterparts, despite higher levels of education.

Volpe says he plans to consult with unions, businesses and immigrant groups to better understand what kinds of workers are needed, and how better to place them.