OTTAWA – The cost of coming to Canada — and becoming a Canadian citizen — is set to rise.
Thursday’s federal budget suggests the government is eyeing fee hikes to cover the ballooning cost of processing hundreds of thousands of visa and citizenship applications each year.
The Conservative government is seeking to shift more of those costs onto the businesses who want to bring in temporary foreign workers, as well as to those applying for citizenship.
At the same time, it will be spending more money on both those programs to speed up processing times, with $42 million allocated for the temporary resident program and $44 million for citizenship over two years.
A backlog in processing citizenship applications, as well as a shortage of citizenship judges and new counter-fraud measures, have created lengthy delays of months or years for people to receive their coveted Canadian status.
“For many newcomers, becoming a Canadian citizen is a significant step, creating a stronger bond to the economic and social fabric of Canada,” the budget document says.
As of Sept. 30, 2012, there were 319,517 applications for citizenship waiting to be processed, according to recent statistics from the Citizenship and Immigration Department.
But the department had previously received only enough funding to process about 160,000 applications a year. Those applying for citizenship currently pay about $200, which is only about 20 per cent of the cost to process the application.
“The most significant problem with citizenship processing times is the fact that, while the actual cost of processing citizenship applications has increased, the fee has not been increased in almost 20 years,” said Alexis Pavlich, a spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
Meanwhile, Human Resources and Skills Development is spending about $35.5 million a year to process applications from employers to bring in temporary foreign workers, and currently no fee is charged either to the company or the worker, the department said in a recent briefing.
“The government will also propose to introduce user fees for employers applying for temporary foreign workers through the labour market opinion process so that these costs are no longer absorbed by taxpayers,” a budget document says.
The temporary foreign worker program has been growing faster than the permanent economic residency stream for the last five years.
In 2012, there were more than 213,000 foreign workers in Canada, compared with over 160,000 immigrants who arrived under the federal skilled worker program.
The rapid growth of the program has raised concerns that Canadian companies are filling job vacancies with cheaper workers from overseas rather than actively finding Canadians to fill the jobs.
Much of the focus of the budget is on reversing that trend, with millions being allocated for training and job creation programs.
At the same time, the government is continuing to overhaul the temporary foreign worker program.
The changes were prompted in part by a continuing controversy in B.C. surrounding a mining firm allowed to bring in foreign labour after insisting that a requirement to speak Mandarin meant it couldn’t find Canadians to fill their jobs.
The budget says that’s no longer going to be an excuse, proposing an amendment to current regulations that “restrict the identification of non-official languages as job requirements when hiring through the temporary foreign worker process.”
The budget also says employers will have to advertise longer and farther to find Canadians to fill jobs before looking overseas.
The $42 million for the temporary resident program will also be spent on processing more visas for students and tourists.