A group of Manitobans said changes to the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program are unfair to immigrants and their families.

A small group gathered on the steps of the Manitoba Legislative Building Friday morning to protest a $500 fee the provincial government is tacking on to applications to the skilled worker stream of the MPNP, starting Saturday.

The group also said changes are being made to the application process, making it harder to reunite families.

"Now, they want to put restrictions on family reunification, which we think adds a lot of burden on the immigrants that want to come to the province. And also the ones that want to being their families here," said Lizeth Adila of the Save MPNP Coalition.

In a statement emailed to CTV News, the province said it is “restoring the integrity of Manitoba’s Provincial Nominee Program by ensuring processing times are respectful and nominations merit based.”

The MPNP was introduced in 1998 to bring skilled workers and investors to Manitoba, the province said in the statement.

“The MPNP is one component of the immigration system – there are existing avenues for family immigration to Canada and Manitoba,” the province said.

They accused the previous NDP government of mismanaging the program, creating a backlog of 5,100 applications by April 2016. Of those cases, some of which dated back to 2013, 81 remain.

The coalition said the fee would be in addition to thousands of dollars in other fees that new immigrants are already forced to pay and would discourage newcomers from settling in the province.

“Immigrants that are already here they contribute to the economy and the culture of Manitoba,” said Adila. “Manitoba has been a province that is recognized in the country for welcoming immigrants, so we think this is going to put a lot of burden on immigrants that just want to bring their family, that already work two jobs here, and just want to bring their families to support themselves.”

The province said the fee will help ensure applications are processed in a timely fashion and improve services for immigrants and refugees. The money will help bridge service gaps for youth, as well as eliminate barriers to employment for immigrants and refugees, the province said.

The Save MPNP Coalition had set up a meeting with Education Minister Ian Wishart to discuss their concerns on Friday. They said the minister's office cancelled that meeting on Thursday.

A spokesperson for Wishart told CTV News the meeting was postponed because the minister was not in Winnipeg on Friday. The spokesperson said Wishart plans to meet with the group at a later date.