Politics

Liberal promise to wipe out citizenship fees would cost $100M a year

The Liberals are promising to eliminate the fee for applying for Canadian citizenship, removing what some immigrant advocates have called a key barrier for many newcomers.

Expert says it could be viewed as 'political positioning' to immigrant voters

The Liberals are promising to eliminate the fee for applying for Canadian citizenship. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The Liberals are promising to eliminate the application fee for Canadian citizenship, removing what some immigrant advocates have called a key barrier for many newcomers.

Tucked in the party's platform released Sunday is a promise to make the path to citizenship "more affordable." The estimated cost is $400 million over four years.

"Becoming a citizen allows new immigrants to fully participate in Canadian society and the process of granting citizenship is a government service, not something that should be paid for with a user fee," the platform reads. "To make citizenship more affordable, we will make the application process free for those who have fulfilled the requirements needed to obtain it."

The processing fee is now $530, which was hiked from $100 by the previous Conservative government. There is also a $100 "right of citizenship" fee.

Cost is considered a hurdle for many newcomers hoping to become Canadian citizens, especially low-income refugee families.

The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) has pressed the government to eliminate it.

Added costs for citizenship

"The application fee is only one of the costs people have to assume — for example, many people have to pay for a test to prove they speak English or French well enough," said CCR executive director Janet Dench.

Andrew Griffith, a former senior immigration official and author on immigration issues, said while he has long railed against the "steep" increase brought in by the Conservatives, he doesn't see the need to eliminate fees entirely.

Becoming a citizen benefits Canada in terms of improved integration and participation and benefits the citizen with the right to a Canadian passport and voting rights, he said. Griffith said a fee of $300 would reflect that balance.

Shouldn't be free

"Waiving the fees completely, at a cost of some $100 million a year, is excessive and will likely be perceived as political positioning to attract immigrant voters, rather than being evidence-based," he said.

"To my knowledge, no Western country offers free citizenship."

According to Elections Canada, there were 337,265 Canadian citizens added to the national register since the 2015 election.

In 2017, the Liberals loosened some rules around citizenship. They reduced the length of time that would-be citizens must be physically present in Canada. They lowered the age range for language and knowledge requirements. The fee remained the same.

In a statement to CBC, Ahmed Hussen, the immigration minister who is seeking re-election as an MP, said the promise stems from consultations on how to improve the system.

"We heard from groups across the country who have said that the prohibitive fees were stopping families from finally becoming Canadian. Currently, the cost of applying for citizenship for an average family of four is almost $1,500," he said.

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