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

Not much media coverage or commentary to date:

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.

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

CIC news also covered the platform commitment:

Analysis: Why the Liberals are proposing a Municipal Nominee Program and free citizenship applications

Liberal Platform: Commitment to abolish citizenship fees

I am still wading through to Liberal campaign platform, and will do a comparative analysis of the immigration, citizenship, multiculturalism and diversity commitments of all parties.

As someone who has long advocated for lowering citizenship fees, it was a pleasant surprise to see the Liberals addressing the excessive fee increases imposed by the previous Conservative government in 2014-15 (from $100 to $530 for adults, plus $100 “right of citizenship” fee of $100).

The net result has been a decline in the number of people applying for and obtaining citizenship, although the decline also reflected policy changes under the Conservatives, since reversed by the Liberals (residency back to 3 of 5 years, language and knowledge testing ages back to 18-54).

The chart below best captures the decline, comparing the last full census period citizenship take up, showing a decline from 77.2 to 68.5 percent.

My analysis of census data did show a positive correlation between income and citizenship take up (What the census tells us about citizenship)

However, while some will welcome the complete elimination of the fees, I always advocated for a reasonable balance between the societal benefits (political integration and participation) and private benefits (right to enter Canada and voting rights). Given IRCC data showing a processing cost of around $530 (2010-11), an adult total fee of $300 would have represented an appropriate balance between public and private benefits.

By eliminating the fees, the platform will most likely be perceived as political positioning with immigrant voters.

“A More Affordable Path to Citizenship

We will make applying for Canadian citizenship free for permanent residents.

With the right supports, immigrants are able to get to work, help build up our communities, and grow our local economies in short order. But arriving in Canada is just the first step on a long journey to citizenship.

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. To make citizenship more affordable, we will make the application process free for those who have fulfilled the requirements needed to obtain it.

Costing:”

Making applying for Canadian citizenship free for permanent residence (sic)

75

101

105

110

Note: IRCC Departmental plan 2019-20shows “Citizenship funding from 2019–2020 to 2021–2022 ranges between $61.4 million and $63.9 million.” This suggests  the Liberals are anticipating a significant increase in the citizenship take-up rate, not just one reflecting the increase in the number of immigrants.