$500 fee hike for immigrants called cash grab, head tax

A new fee, and the tone of the government concerning recent arrivals under the provincial nominee program has drawn fire.

Government says funds from increase to be spent helping immigrants, refugees

Helal Mohiuddim says the new fee resembles the head tax once imposed by the Canadian government. (CBC News )

A new fee, and the tone of the government concerning recent arrivals under the provincial nominee program, has drawn fire.

The Progressive Conservative government plans to charge a $500 fee to people who have been approved to come to Manitoba under the program. The Tories say the cash would be used to reduce a 42-month backlog of immigration hopefuls in the queue as well as to help settle refugees. 

The fee is simply a cash grab, said Liberal MLA Cindy Lamoureux.

"Four, five or six years ago it took 90 days and there was no $500 fee. There is a precedent. It's been done before. The $500 fee is a money grab and they are taking advantage of immigrants here in Manitoba," she said.
Liberal MLA Cindy Lamoureaux calls the new fee a cash grab. (CBC News)

Lamoureaux laid the blame for the backlog at the feet of the former NDP government. And she said as the opposition now, New Democrats have dropped the ball on criticizing the program's problems — until this week. 

Helal Mohiuddim was at question period at the Legislature today with several others who are recent arrivals to Manitoba under the program. He was equally critical of the new fee.

"It's a kind of head tax, in new form, that we had before. We got rid of that problem. It's a dehumanising thing," Mohiuddim said.

Mohiuddim came to Canada from Bangladesh in 2004. He says applicants already have numerous costly qualifications to meet for the program and a new fee adds to that burden.

He is also angered at a suggestion made by Premier Brian Pallister earlier this week in the Legislature that not all immigrants were able to get jobs after they arrive.
Education and Training Minister Ian Wishart says revenue from the fee will only be used to reduce the backlog. (CBC News )

"My community, other multi-cultural communities, we don't know, we just heard about something derogatory and [some] disrespectful language about immigrants. That [we] are drains and burdens on society. And it hurt us," Mohiuddim said.

NDP interim leader Flor Marcelino says arrivals under the nominee program almost always have work shortly after they get to Manitoba.

"Even if they are overqualified, they take on whatever job for a start. So very, very few of them are unemployed," Marcelino said 

Fee spent on immigration

Ian Wishart, the minister responsible for Immigration and Training says the $500 fee will not go into government general revenues.

"Every dollar that we collect stays in the immigration file. It is either spent on those people, giving them extra services or refugees. It is not a cash-grab by the government, he said.

There are currently 1,000 applicants being evaluated for the program and a further 3,000 waiting to be reviewed, Wishart said. He has pledged the backlog will be cleared up by April 2017.

Promise to match applicants with jobs

A spokesperson for Wishart says the previous NDP government created a two-tier system.

"Leading up to the election, the former government took a select few [nominees in the program] and moved them through the system. At the same time [it] created a backlog by allowing lower priority applicants to languish," the spokesperson told CBC News.

Pallister issued a statement reacting to suggestions he'd been disrespectful to immigrants. 

"Manitoba is an incredibly welcoming province and I am proud of the diverse cultures that make our community so unique. Our government wants all those who come to our province to be given the best possible opportunity to succeed, find employment, raise their families and make Manitoba their home," the statement read.

The government has also promised to realign the nominee program by connecting applicants with available jobs more quickly.