Canada is moving closer to bringing new measures into law that would allow immigrants to apply for Canadian citizenship earlier and more easily than is currently the case. Changing the existing Citizenship Act is considered a centrepiece of the new Liberal government’s legislative agenda.
The chair of the House Immigration Committee, MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj, said this month that he hopes the bill, known as C-6, will pass into law in time for Canada Day, which falls each year on July 1.
This would have great symbolic relevance, as Canadians are proud of their citizenship and the status, rights, and freedoms that it provides. Canada encourages new immigrants to consider becoming naturalized citizens and join the Canadian family. Canadian citizens may apply for a Canadian passport, vote in elections, stand for public office, and leave and re-enter Canada freely without being bound by residency obligations. Canada also recognizes dual citizenship, allowing immigrants to acquire Canadian citizenship without having to lose the citizenship they already hold.
Among the proposed amendments is a reduction in the amount of time permanent residents have to live in Canada in order to become eligible to apply for citizenship, from four out of six years to three out five years. Further, certain applicants who spent time in Canada on temporary status would be able to count a portion of this time towards the three-year requirement. The proposed amendments would also repeal the intent to reside provision and remove language proficiency requirements for certain applicants.
In addition, the new legislation would repeal a contentious provision that revoked citizenship from dual Canadian citizens convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage. With a majority government in place, it is expected that the proposals will become law in the near future. The only major potential stumbling block is how the bill may be treated in the Senate, with Immigration Minister John McCallum among a group of politicians who have expressed wariness over how the Conservative-dominated Senate may handle the bill.
In June, 2014, the previous Conservative government of Canada brought into law the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (also known as bill C-24). Among other measures, this controversial legislation made eligibility requirements for immigrants more onerous than had previously been the case. It also allowed the government to revoke citizenship in certain cases.
The now-governing Liberal Party of Canada, which came into office last November, made a public pledge in its election manifesto to ‘repeal the unfair elements of Bill C-24 that create second-class citizens and the elements that make it more difficult for hard-working immigrants to become Canadian citizens.’
The proposed changes to the Citizenship Act run the full gamut of the act, from how an individual may become eligible for citizenship to the rights bestowed once citizenship is conferred on the person.
Repeal of revocation provision
Current act: Authority to revoke citizenship for certain acts against the national interest of Canada. These grounds include convictions of terrorism, high treason, treason or spying offences, depending on the sentence received, or for membership in an armed force or organized armed group engaged in armed conflict with Canada.
Proposed amendment: Repeal national interest grounds for revocation.
Repeal of intention to reside provision
Current act: Applicants must have the intention to reside in Canada if granted citizenship.
Proposed amendment: Repeal intent to reside provision.
Physical presence in Canada
Current act: Physical presence for 4 out of 6 years before the date of application.
Proposed amendment: Physical presence for 3 out of 5 years before the date of application.
Counting temporary status
Current act: Time spent in Canada as a non-permanent resident may not be counted.
Proposed amendment: Applicants may count each day they were physically present in Canada as a temporary resident or protected person before becoming a permanent resident as a half-day toward meeting the physical presence requirement for citizenship, up to a maximum of one year of credited time.
Less burdensome annual physical presence requirement
Current act: Minimum of 183 days physical presence in 4 of the last 6 years.
Proposed amendment: Repeal the minimum 183 days physical presence in 4 of the last 6 years.
Fewer people need to prove language proficiency
Current act: Applicants aged 14-64 must meet language requirements and pass knowledge test.
Proposed amendment: Applicants aged 18-54 must meet language requirements and pass knowledge test.
Canadian income taxes
Current act: File Canadian income taxes, if required to do so under the Income Tax Act, for four taxation years out of six years, matching physical presence requirement.
Proposed amendment: File Canadian income taxes, if required to do so under the Income Tax Act, for three taxation years out of five years, matching proposed new physical presence requirement.
Conditional sentence now a bar
Current act: Time spent serving a conditional sentence order can be counted towards meeting physical presence requirements. Convicted individuals who are serving conditional sentence orders (sentences served in the community with certain conditions) are not prohibited from being granted citizenship or taking the oath of citizenship.
Proposed amendment: Time spent under a conditional sentence order cannot be counted towards meeting the physical presence requirements; and those serving a conditional sentence order are prohibited from being granted citizenship or taking the oath of citizenship.
Canadian citizenship oath
Current act: Provision prohibiting applicants from taking the oath of citizenship if they never met or no longer meet the requirements for the grant of citizenship, but does not apply to applications received before June 11, 2015.
Proposed amendment: Provision prohibiting applicants from taking the oath of citizenship if they never met or no longer meet the requirements for the grant of citizenship also applies to applications still in process that were received prior to June 11, 2015.
New provision to counter fraud
Current act: No explicit authority for citizenship officers to seize fraudulent documents related to the processing of applications.
Proposed amendment: Authority to seize documents provided during the administration of the Citizenship Act if there are reasonable grounds to believe they are fraudulent, or being used fraudulently.
“The public appetite — among Canadians and current and prospective immigrants alike — is for a Canada that is open, positive and welcoming. The very notion of citizenship is a big part of that, and it is great to see the new government taking initiative on this within months of taking office,” says Attorney David Cohen.
“Very soon, it is likely that we will be back to telling foreign workers and international students that they can land in Canada and think of their long-term future here. We will be back to seeing Canadian citizenship as a global responsibility, rather than as something that is so fixated on the person being physically present in Canada.
“For current immigrants who want to obtain Canadian citizenship, the question now becomes one of preparation. A thorough and accurate application is required in order to satisfy the authorities that you are eligible to obtain citizenship.
“For prospective immigrants who are wavering on whether to pursue permanent resident status, including foreign workers and students in Canada on temporary status, these changes may sway the decision in favour of pursuing that goal more deliberately than before. I would encourage such individuals to assess their Canadian immigration options as soon as possible.”
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