Manitoba waives $500 fee for Ukrainians entering province through nominee program

As the war in Ukraine continues, Manitoba is waiving a $500 fee for Ukrainians attempting to enter the province through the provincial nominee program.

The applications of Ukrainians are being expedited as much as possible through the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program, Manitoba Advanced Education, Skills and Immigration Minister Jon Reyes said Tuesday.

He classified the applications that have been received as “high priority,” but was unable to say specifically how many applications that includes.

Two weeks ago, the province said just over 100 applications from Ukraine were in the nominee program’s queue.  

“We will welcome as many as we humanly possible can handle, but that will have to ensure that we have engagement with [provincial] organizations and the federal government,” Reyes said.

The provincial nominee program is a fast-track immigration option, which allows provinces to nominate people to immigrate. It’s typically used to encourage people with needed skills, education and work experience to move here.

The provincial government said earlier this month it is using the program to prioritize the applications of people trying escape Ukraine, in light of the ongoing conflict there.

The Red Cross and the United Nations refugee agency say in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began on Feb. 24, millions of people face food and medicine shortages, along with the immediate conflict threats of shelling and air attacks, with millions displaced within the country.

More than three million people from Ukraine have now fled to neighbouring countries in what the UN has called Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

Over 7,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada since Jan. 1, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, although the exact number of arrivals since the war in Ukraine began remains unclear. 

Manitoba Advanced Education, Skills and Immigration Minister Jon Reyes announced Tuesday that the province is waiving a $500 application fee for Ukrainians applying for entry through the Manitoba provincial nominee program. (Radio-Canada)

Reyes said the admittance of refugees falls under the federal umbrella, but said he is working in tandem with Canadian Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser to get more Ukrainians to Manitoba.

The province has information online about the special stream in the nominee program for Ukrainians looking to come to Manitoba, Reyes said.

“We know that there are many that want to come to Manitoba,” Reyes added. “We know that immigration is a crucial enabler for our economy.”

He also noted “there are many Manitobans of Ukrainian descent and non-Ukrainian descent who want to help these individuals.”

Reyes admits there will be some delays in processing applications, but couldn’t pinpoint how long those delays will be.

The provincial nominee program received 6,275 applications in 2021 — the highest number of nominees since it was established in 1998 — Reyes said last month.

Settlement programs need more funding: opposition

NDP MLA Mark Wasyliw (Fort Garry) noted the Opposition party had previously urged the Progressive Conservative government to waive the $500 application fee, and applauded them for doing so Tuesday.

He said it’s a good start but that more needs to be done, including relaxing the program’s language requirements.

“We were calling for this at the start of the invasion,” Wasyliw said. 

“We’re now at day 20 and it shouldn’t have taken this government 20 days into this invasion with three million Ukrainian refugees, mostly women and children, and seeing the mass horrors … to get them to act.”

While Reyes said he is satisfied with the current staffing and funding for the provincial nominee program, Wasyliw said the province needs to hire more immigration and settlement workers in preparation for what could be a surge of Ukrainian immigrants in the coming months.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress has said it has the capacity to settle thousands of Ukrainian immigrants. The problem, Wasyliw says, is the resources needed aren’t in place to help those immigrants easily integrate into life in Manitoba.

“Manitobans want to be part of this solution. They are lining up to do it,” he said. “They need their government to partner with them to make that a reality.”

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont also said the province doesn’t have the capacity to integrate a flood of Ukrainians, and he expects to see many new immigrants in distress after they arrive.

“We don’t have the capacity to do it right now,” Lamont said. “We need the government to actually put money into settlement services.”