Ottawa- As part of the federal budget tabled yesterday, fees for applying to become a Canadian citizen and the cost of obtaining temporary visas for students, workers and visitors will be “modernized” to cover more of the processing costs.

The intention of the government to have those who are applying for Canadian citizenship as well as companies who wish to hire temporary foreign workers cover more of the cost of processing those documents was announced in yesterday’s budget.

According to statistics from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), at the end of September last year, there were 319,519 citizenship applications waiting to be processed. CIC only received enough funding from the government to process 160,000 of these applications. According to Alexis Pavlich, a spokeswoman for CIC Minister Jason Kenney, “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.”

Currently, the $200 fee to apply for citizenship covers about 20% of the processing cost. While it is not expected the fee will rise to cover the entire amount, the cost could double to $400.

Changes will also be implemented to charge higher fees for temporary visas for tourists, students and foreign workers. Last year, more than one million visitors visas were issued; a 40% increase from 2004. During that same time period, the issuance of student visas increased by 60%. Last year, 100,000 student visas were issued.

Major changes were announced in regards to temporary foreign workers. During the past five years there were more foreign workers in Canada (over 213,000) than permanent residents who were landed under the federal skilled worker program (160,000). In order to bring a foreign worker to Canada, an employer must convinced Human Resources and Skills Development that the employee is necessary and the job cannot be filled by a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.

Human Resources and Skills Development currently spends $35.5 million to process these visas. Presently, neither the employer nor the worker is required to pay a portion of this expenditure. According to the budget document, “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 the taxpayer.”

The government also indicated changes are being proposed to the temporary foreign worker program. A controversy erupted late last year when a B.C. mining company was authorized to bring in foreign workers because they could not find enough Mandarin-speaking workers in Canada. Critics claimed the requirement to speak Mandarin was set out simply to be able to hire cheaper workers from China. The government plans to eliminate the necessity to speak a language other than English or French as a job requirement.

The government says it will apply the revenues obtained from increased user fees towards reducing the backlog of Canadian citizenship and temporary visa applications.