News / Canada

Children applying for Canadian citizenship face hefty fee

The Liberal government has removed the legal barrier for children applying for citizenship on their own, but put up a new financial barrier.

“We can’t discriminate and penalize the minors who apply on their own,” Conservative Senator Victor Oh said.

Torstar News Service Order this photo

“We can’t discriminate and penalize the minors who apply on their own,” Conservative Senator Victor Oh said.

Ottawa is treating minors like adults when it comes to charging them for their citizenship applications.

Although recent changes to the citizenship act allow those under age 18 to make an application without their parents, they must pay the same fee as adults — $530.

By contrast, the fee is $100 for minors who apply for citizenship together with their parents.

Critics say children applying for citizenship on their own are probably unaccompanied minors who came to Canada alone for asylum or are estranged from their family and in such difficult situations that they can’t afford the application fee.

When the Liberal government tabled the motion to move forward with the Senate-amended citizenship bill that was passed in June, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen highlighted this particular change on minors, saying easier pathway to citizenship helps newcomers “build successful lives in Canada.”

“The government . . . supports the amendment to make it easier for children to obtain citizenship without a Canadian parent and has made changes to clarify who can apply for citizenship on behalf of the child,” the minister said at the time.

Conservative Senator Victor Oh, who put forward the amendment in the Senate to allow children to apply for citizenship on their own, said no fee-specific provisions were made in his motion at the time because he was told setting processing fees did not require legislative changes and fell within the immigration minister’s discretion.

“I was advised that would take a simple regulatory amendment by the minister, who has the authority to do that,” the Ontario senator told the Star.

Oh said he sent a letter to Hussen in early July and asked him to lower the fee to no more than $100, but he has yet to hear back from the minister.

“We can’t discriminate and penalize the minors who apply on their own,” Oh said. “These children are the most vulnerable and they are not making it easier for them to become citizens.”

Immigration officials said the $530 application fee was put in place to reflect the increasing cost of processing. Over the past three years, an average of 29,740 children under age 18 applied for citizenship per year, the majority of them with their parents.

“As part of its ongoing review of the impact of changes to the citizenship program, consideration will be given to this processing fee difference created by the amendment,” said Julie Lafortune, a spokesperson for the Immigration Department.

Immigration lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland said the government should make public the cost to process a minor’s citizenship application before setting the fee.

It is meaningless for Ottawa to relax the rule on one hand but impose a higher fee on the other, Kurland said. “What is that about?” he asked.

Andrew Griffith, retired director general of the Immigration Department, said the hefty citizenship application fee for independent minors defeats the purpose of the citizenship amendment.

“It was likely driven by somebody thinking bureaucratically without thinking about the policy’s intent to make it easier for minors to become citizens independently,” Griffith said.

“That’s a lot of money, particularly for this vulnerable population. The government has removed the legal barrier to citizenship for them but has now set up a new financial barrier. Theoretically, more young people could become citizens. In practice, they will find it a lot harder.”

Passport Canada currently charges those 16 or older $160 for a 10-year passport and $57 for children younger than that for in-Canada applications. Immigration lawyers expect the number of unaccompanied minors applying for citizenship to be fewer than a couple hundred a year.

More on Metronews.ca