Last week, the Canadian government announced its plans to enact sweeping reforms to the Canadian Citizenship Act. These reforms, the first major changes since 1977, will affect the process of applying for Canadian citizenship and introduce new rules for some Canadian citizens.
The proposed changes have been tabled in a bill before Canadian Parliament. Though it may be months before the bill is passed, when it does the path to Canadian Citizenship may become a lot more challenging for many Canadian permanent residents.
Below is a brief outline of the proposed changes, as well as important information for current and future citizenship applicants:
According to the government, the proposed changes are intended to strengthen the value of Canadian citizenship and streamline the application process. They are grouped under four broad categories:
- ‘Blueprint for citizenship improvements’;
- ‘Reinforcing the value of Canadian citizenship’;
- ‘Cracking down on citizenship fraud’; and
- ‘Protecting and promoting Canada’s interests and values’.
Within each of the categories are lists of specific legislative changes. They are as follows:
Blueprint for citizenship improvements
This category will introduce new rules and procedures that will streamline the overall program and application process. They are:
- Speed up processing times by reducing the application review process from three steps to one step;
- Increase the citizenship application fee from $100 to $300 per person;
- Require up-front proof of certain requirements; and
- Change certain parts of the judicial review and appeal process as well as the process for issuing discretionary grants.
Reinforcing the value of Canadian citizenship
This category includes changes that will modify residency and other requirements for program eligibility. They are:
- Increase residency requirements from 3 out of 4 years to 4 out of 6 years;
- No longer count time spent in Canada as a non-permanent residents (such as student or worker) towards the residency requirements for a citizenship application;
- Require citizenship applicants to declare their intent to reside in Canada;
- Require applicants to file Canadian income taxes, only if required to file;
- Expand the age group for applicants required to demonstrate language proficiency and take a knowledge test. The group is currently 18-54, and will be expanded to 14-64; and
- Extend citizenship to ‘lost Canadians’ such as those born to Canadian soldiers abroad during wartime.
Cracking down on citizenship fraud
This category will introduce new policies that will seek to discourage fraud, whether it is from crooked consultants or applicants themselves. The new rules are:
- Designate a regulatory body whose members may act as consultants in citizenship matters;
- Increase penalties for citizenship fraud; and
- Streamline the process of revoking citizenship in exceptional cases.
Protecting and Promoting Canada’s interests and values
This final category includes new rules that will change not only the way some groups of individuals are issued citizenship, but also how some citizens may lose their citizenship. They are:
- Fast-track citizenship applications for permanent residents who join the Canadian Armed Forces;
- Introduce the ability to revoke or deny citizenship to individuals who commit ‘acts of terrorism or acts against Canadian interests’;
- Expand citizenship-by-descent rules so that children born to Canadian government agency workers abroad may pass on their Canadian citizenship;
- Bar citizenship for individuals charged with or convicted of serious criminality; and
- Update the Citizenship Act to ensure that international adoptions are done in accordance with the Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption.
What this Means for Current Applicants
It is important to the note that the above changes are part of a bill, and that they have not yet been implemented. Depending on the political process, it could take months before the bill becomes law. Until then, any parts of the bill may be added, subtracted or modified.
“Right now we are in a grace period of sorts, but it won’t last long,” said Attorney David Cohen. “Eligible applicants should absolutely seize the moment and apply right away. If and when the rules change, some may not have another shot at citizenship for a considerable time.”
What this Means for Future Applicants
Of course, Canadian permanent residents have no option but to wait until they fulfill residency requirements or are otherwise eligible to apply for citizenship. In the meantime, they can take what they know about the upcoming changes and begin preparing for their citizenship application in advance.
For instance, individuals who think they need to improve their English or French language skills can begin doing so now. Other future applicants may chose to begin learning about Canadian history and civics so as to prepare for the knowledge test. They should also pay close attention to developments in the realm of Canadian citizenship, and take note of how new announcements may affect their candidacy.
Regardless of how they choose to proceed, potential Canadian citizens should be aware that many of the rules above require significant clarifications in terms of requirements and implementation. New developments will be posted on CIC News as they are announced.
“Although the changes being made to the Citizenship Act are significant, applicants should take heart,” said Attorney David Cohen. “They have already done the hard part and gained entry to Canada as permanent residents. They now have the benefit of living in the country and being familiar with Canadian society. As long as they prepare their applications carefully, I trust that they will be able to achieve the final step in their immigration journey, and become full Canadian citizens.”