Citizenship Application Fees Soar

By Sanders, Carol | Winnipeg Free Press, January 7, 2015 | Go to article overview

Citizenship Application Fees Soar


Sanders, Carol, Winnipeg Free Press


Harper government says price hike needed to cover costs of processing paperwork

The cost of applying to become a Canadian citizen has soared in the past year -- a fee hike denounced as "disgusting" and a "poll tax" by critics who say it will keep the working poor from voting.

But federal government officials reject criticism of the five-fold increase, saying the fee reflects efforts to have users pay the costs of services, and it compares fairly with sums charged in other countries.

Tucked away in a Dec. 23 news release about reducing a backlog in citizenship applications, Citizenship and Immigration Canada said from Jan. 1 the fee would rise to $530 from $300. In February 2014, the fee rose to $300 from $100.

The press release said applications had been processed for more than 260,000 new citizens last year -- nearly double the number from 2013. Canada's citizenship application backlog has been reduced by 17 per cent since June, it said, and the government was on track to eliminate the backlog and reduce processing times to less than a year in the next fiscal year. The fee hike was "in keeping with user-pay principles and a move toward full cost recovery in the citizenship program."

Critics say the increase is undemocratic.

"Five-hundred-thirty dollars can be a substantial amount of money for some people, enough, in some cases, to delay or deter an application for citizenship," human rights lawyer David Matas said by email from an airplane on his way home to Winnipeg from Vancouver. "A person has to be a citizen to vote. Charging a substantial fee for citizenship means charging a substantial fee to allow a person to vote... This is a form of poll tax, which skews the demographics of the voting population. It will mean that the poor will be under-represented in the population eligible to vote."

Kevin Menard, spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, dismissed that suggestion.

"That assertion is ridiculous. The recent increase, always planned to be done in two phases to coincide with improved service, gets us to full- cost recovery of application processing. No more. Thus, it is by definition not a tax," Menard said in an email. "Also, the benefits of Canadian citizenship far outweigh the current cost of getting one, which is still less than that charged by several similar countries. Applicants can apply anytime after they are eligible, and as their situation allows."

Alexander told an online forum last month the increased fee more closely reflects the cost of processing an application. It was, he said, in keeping with a user-pay principal so the fees cover the entire cost of the citizenship program.

"It's disgusting," said Tom Denton, executive director of the Hospitality House Refugee Ministry, which privately sponsors and resettles refugees who come to Canada. …

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