Ottawa– The Canadian government said it will welcome 3 lakh immigrants into the country next year to help drive economic growth as the country grapples with an aging demographic.

After tabling his annual report in Parliament, Canadian Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum told reporters on Monday that the new number “lays the foundation for future growth in immigration targets”, Xinhua news agency reported.

“I do believe it is true that more immigrants for Canada would be a good policy for demographic reasons,” McCallum told reporters.

The announcement comes amid warnings from the Liberal Party’s economic council of advisers that Canada needs to raise immigration levels by the tens of thousands in order to ensure better economic growth. The council recommended the government gradually increase immigration levels to 450,000 per year over the next five years.

McCallum said the 450,000 figure was something to aspire to, but insisted that “that number is a conceivable number for some date in the future, but certainly not for 2017.”

The target number of immigrants from 2011 to 2015 was 260,000, but swelled to 300,000 this year because of what McCallum called the “special circumstances” of the Syrian refugee crisis.

There has been much debate over the targeted immigration number at a time when Canada struggles with high unemployment.

The 2017 target boosts entries for those in the economic class — skilled workers, businesspeople and caregivers — to 172,500 from 160,600. In the family class, the number of sponsored spouses, partners, children, parents and grandparents will climb to 84,000 from 80,000.

Kevin Lamoureux, the parliamentary secretary to the leader of the government in the House of Commons, said immigrants not only fill jobs that will remain vacant to develop provincial economies, but also contribute to the character and social fabric of communities.

If it weren’t for immigration, population of his province of Manitoba would have declined in the last decade, he said.

“Immigration plays a critical role in terms of the future of Canada in particular in region where the threat of de-population is a reality. Manitoba and other provinces are subject to that depopulation,” he said.(IANS)