Advocates calling on Canada to resolve citizenship application backlog

Shelby Thevenot
Published: November 23, 2020

Citizenship-applicants and their supporters are calling on the federal government to address the backlog that is preventing thousands from becoming Canadian citizens.

A group called Advocates for Resumption of Canadian Citizenship Tests held demonstrations in Toronto and Montreal on November 7. The group was formed in response to the backlog in citizenship applicants waiting to get approved for a test, or for a citizenship ceremony. Their next demonstration will be in Ottawa on November 28.

Canada's immigration department, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), cancelled all citizenship tests, interviews, and ceremonies on March 14 in response to the pandemic. IRCC began offering online citizenship ceremonies in April, at a rate of about 2,500 to 3,000 per week, significantly down from the 4,700 they were processing per week in 2019.

Citizenship applicants must demonstrate basic knowledge of Canada, as per the Citizenship Act. Applicants now must meet this requirement by doing the citizenship test, which is currently not available online. Though some in-person retesting has resumed, this means for many that they are unable to get Canadian citizenship. As of September, there were about 85,000 people waiting to take the citizenship test.

As a result, they are unable to vote, work in certain government jobs, or get a Canadian passport.

"It worries us, when we receive several messages in our group from people describing how this is affecting their mental health, relationships, their ability to travel home, their government job prospects, the need to unnecessarily extend their PR status etc.," wrote a spokesperson from the citizenship tests advocates in a media release.

Nael Asad is one of the co-founder of the advocacy group, and one of thousands waiting for an invitation to take the citizenship test. He has had his permanent residency since 2008, and applied for citizenship in April 2019. Before the pandemic, IRCC's average processing time for citizenship applications was about one year, so Asad was expecting an invitation for around the time when the pandemic hit in March.

"It's very disrespectful to leave 85,000 people or more out there in limbo without any kind of update," Asad told CIC News. "Tell us, 'OK we're not going to open up until this pandemic are over,' but for eight or nine months now they're saying the same thing 'We're monitoring the situation, check our website for updates.' So people are going every single day on the website to check for updates."

He also described how being a citizen comes with a sense of security, especially for people who fled war zones to come to Canada.

"When you are a citizen, you are a citizen," he said. "Nothing is gonna happen to you this is your home country, but technically it is not our home country until we become citizens."

The advocacy group's online petition now has over 9,000 signatures. They are making three calls to action for IRCC: transparency on what the immigration department has been doing with the applications since March; the resumption, or wavier, of citizenship tests; and the reimbursement of the citizenship application fee, which runs about $630 for adults.

CIC News reached out to IRCC on updated numbers of citizenship files processed, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters on November 12 that IRCC is working on virtual citizenship testing, but did not say exactly when they would be available.

"With regards to virtual citizenship testing that is something my department is working very, very hard on to launch and we hope to say more on that in the very near future," Mendicino said.

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