The new Canadian Citizenship rules for Newcomers – What You Need to Know

On February 6, 2014, Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander unveiled the first comprehensive reforms to the Citizenship Act since 1977. With the unveiling of Bill C-24, the Strengthening of Canadian Citizenship Act, the Canadian Government purports that the new Bill will protect the value of Canadian citizenship while creating a faster and more efficient Citizenship process for those immigrants who have applied to become a Canadian citizen.

citizenship oath

Soon to be Canadians come together for the Citizenship Oath Ceremony.

Bill C-24 introduces some key changes to the way in which newcomers become citizens. Newcomers will be expected to show that they have established strong ties to Canada and residence requirements will ensure that the applicant has resided physically in Canada for the duration that is specified in the Act (physical presence of 4 out of 6 years or 1,460 days) with a signed declaration of “intent to reside” in Canada. Permanent Residents will be required to be present in Canada for 183 days each year for four out of six years. Under the new system, there will be one step instead of three and applicants can expect a decision to be made within a year. Changes and measures that will be put into place are expected to reduce the backlog of applicants by 80% and streamline the process to be more simple and efficient. Citizenship will automatically be extended to those with strong ties to Canada who were born before 1947 and their children born in the first generation outside of Canada (“Lost Canadians”).

More language requirements will be implemented as well as having to pass a knowledge test. Support for studying for these two requirements can be found at local immigrant settlement services agencies across Canada. Many have online systems that can help new immigrants study for the exams, and there’s even an app that can be downloaded here.

Fees for Canadian Citizenship will be expected to rise, as the cost that is normally associated with Tax Payers footing the bill will be alleviated. Application fees will then reflect actual costs associated with becoming a citizen of Canada. As well, the Government intends to implement stronger measures to protect Canada against citizenship fraud, and will be imposing harsher penalties for misrepresentation (max $100,000 or 5 years).

Under the current system, a Permanent Resident of Canada must live in Canada for three out of four years to be eligible to apply for Citizenship. Under the proposed new changes, that four year period of waiting will be increased to four out of six years and will eliminate any temporary visa period when calculating time spent in Canada.

CIC stated in the Toronto Star on March 3, 2014 “This change would create a level playing field for all citizenship applicants and demonstrate their permanent commitment to Canada,” said CIC spokesman Remi Lariviere. “While it may take someone . . . longer to meet the residence requirement under the new rules, the changes are designed to deepen their attachment to Canada.”

New decision-making model for citizenship applications

The old system was a three-step process whereby a Citizenship Officer prepared applications for citizenship to be presented to a judge and then accepted or rejected. In the new system, the Citizenship Officer will be able to make a decision on citizenship on behalf of the Minister. This one-step process is considered a way of reducing red-tape and speeding up the process for obtaining citizenship.

Increasing Citizenship Fees

As of February 6, 2014, the fee for Canadian citizenship for adult applications for a grant of citizenship, resumptions and adult adoptions increased from $100 to $300. The tax savings on Citizenship costs will be passed on to Canadian citizens with new immigrants picking up the tab for the actual costs of processing. The $100 Right of Citizenship Fee remains the same for successful applicants. Fees for applications for a grant or resumption of citizenship for a minor child of a Canadian citizen are exempt from this change.

Previously, new immigrants only paid 20% of the cost of obtaining Canadian Citizenship and will now be responsible for shouldering the entire cost of the process rather than a shared structure supported by tax dollars. As Canada has had the highest level of immigration worldwide, resources in Citizenship have not been enough to sustain the level of applications for Citizenship and so these changes will help minimize the Citizenship backlog that tends to develop from over demand.

Discretionary grants

Under the old system, the Governor in Council could under certain circumstances of hardship or as a reward of an exceptional value to Canada, direct the Minister to grant Citizenship. Under the new proposed changes, the GIC no longer has this power and the discretion will fall completely under the current CIC Minister of Citizenship & Immigration.

Judicial Review and Appeal Process

Under the new proposed changes, access to the higher courts would be given to all applicants. Currently, an appeal of a judge’s decision can go to the Federal Court only (and cannot go to Supreme Court). As well any decisions made by Citizenship Officers who have the authority to decide on Citizenship can be open to judicial review and challenged in a higher court.

Proposed changes would give access to higher courts for all applicants. CIC proposes to amend the review process for decisions on citizenship applications. Currently, an appeal of a citizenship judge’s decision can go to the Federal Court (FC) but no higher. Decisions by citizenship officers, who have authority to decide certain cases under the Act, can be judicially reviewed and challenged in a higher court. Under a uniform review system, any decision under the Citizenship Act can be appealed as high as the Supreme Court of Canada (Canada’s highest court of appeal).

Citizenship proof

Under the current system, a citizenship certificate must be issued to each person, denoting Canadian Citizenship as proof. The new proposed changes want to move to a more flexible system of proof whereby rather than a paper copy, Citizens can prove they are Canadian citizens through electronic means.

Authority to abandon a citizenship application

Under the current Citizenship Act, there is no authority to abandon a citizenship application, especially in situations where an applicant has failed to appear for the citizenship test or an appointment with a Citizenship Officer. CIC would like new powers of authority to determine if it is appropriate that an application be abandoned if there is a ground of non-compliance or misrepresentation by the applicant. This new power of abandonment would apply to all Citizenship applications under the new Act at any stage of processing until the oath is taken. Incomplete applications can be returned to the applicant.

Minister Alexander was quoted in saying that “The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, along with the launch of the Blueprint for Citizenship Improvements, helps improve the citizenship process by reducing backlogs and wait times. Our government is proud to table improvements to the Citizenship Act that reinforce the value of citizenship and make the process quicker and easier for new Canadians who play by the rules.” Chris Alexander, Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister.

Finally, it should be noted that a new designated body of authorized representatives will be able to give advice on Citizenship matters. And for immigration clients, this will be an important part of the process to becoming a citizen of Canada. It will be important to have a trusted advisor that can guide the citizenship process for you and represent you in the event that a Citizenship Officer denies your application for Canadian citizenship. This person can help to give the very best advice and assistance on preparing your application.

For new immigrants and permanent residents, it will be vital to begin the Citizenship process as soon as they are able to apply, and to follow the new rules as outlined in the new Citizenship Act. Activities such as developing language skills, establishing strong ties to Canada through networking, paying taxes by filing with Revenue Canada so that there is a record and ensuring to meet all residency requirements while in Canada will be critical to the success at becoming a Canadian citizen.


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Immigration Department Closing Citizenship Applications to Reduce Backlog

New Canadians taking the Oath of Citizenship. Citizenship application processing times have increased from 12 – 15 months in 2008 to 23 months today

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is closing citizenship applications of unresponsive applicants in an effort to reduce its backlog and speed up application processing.

A new article by Postmedia News lists some factors that could be used to determine which applications are dormant:

Citizenship and Immigration will shut the files of those who fail to attend multiple scheduled citizenship tests or interviews. Applications submitted on or after April 17, 2009 will also be considered dormant and closed if applicants fail to provide proof of residency after receiving two notices to do so from the government.

CIC spokeswoman Andrea Khanjin told Postmedia News that 54,000 citizenship applicants did not show up for their citizenship test in just the last three years and that CIC estimates about 12,000 files will be closed soon under the new procedures.

Khanjin said that citizenship application processing will favour those who make an effort to comply with the process requirements over those who do not:

“Those who take their citizenship seriously will not have to wait in line behind those that don’t bother showing up to their citizenship test, interview, or who don’t respond to a residence questionnaire. The citizenship application process has been bogged down for too long by those that do not take Canadian citizenship seriously.”

Citizenship application processing times have increased in recent years, from 12 to 15 months in 2008 to 23 months in April of this year, leading to more funding being allotted by the federal government for citizenship application processing and, now, an effort to cut down the backlog of 350,000 applications by closing dormant files.


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Dozens of Citizenship Events Held for Canada Day

A screenshot of an interactive map on the CIC website showing the citizenship and affirmation ceremonies held on Canada Day (GOOGLE MAPS)

Over 30 special citizenship ceremonies were held across Canada, mostly in major cities, on Canada Day to mark the granting of citizenship status to Canadian permanent residents and to celebrate the country’s birthday.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) included a map of all events on their website to direct Canadians who wanted to observe the ceremonies and welcome the new Canadians.

Also held across the country were four affirmation ceremonies, also called “The Great Canadian Oath” ceremonies, where individuals already holding Canadian citizenship ‘reaffirm’ their commitment to Canada, by recounting the Oath of Citizenship, singing the Canadian national anthem, “O Canada”, and talking about the importance of citizenship.


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CIC Releases Audio Book Version of Citizenship Test Guide

The Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship guide is now available as an audio-text eBook (Citizenship and Immigration Canada)

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) announced the release of a downloadable audio eBook of the Discover Canada citizenship test guide on Friday.

The eBook allows a reader to listen to an audio version of the guide while they follow along by reading the text on any digital viewer.

Since launching in 2009, almost one million hard copies and 400,000 digital copies of the guide have been distributed, which CIC says makes it one of the most widely read government publications in Canadian history.

The audio portion of the eBook includes readings by well known Canadians Adrienne Clarkson, Ian Hanomansing and, in the French version, Jean-Benoît Rainville.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced the new integrated audio eBook to coincide with Canada Day:

“I’m pleased to launch the audio eBook version of Discover Canada just in time for Canada Day. This is yet another way those studying for the citizenship test can learn about Canada’s history, values, symbols and important institutions.”

The new guide could help improve the pass rate of Canadian citizenship exam takers, which has fallen in recent years as the test has been made more difficult.


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Citizenship Application Process to Get Easier With Test Re-Takes

New Canadian citizens at the Oath of Citizenship ceremony. New rules will allow citizenship applicants who fail their citizenship knowledge test to re-take the test a few weeks later

Following recent changes to the citizenship application process that increased the difficulty of acquiring Canadian citizenship, including the introduction of proof of minimum language proficiency and an increase in the difficulty of the citizenship knowledge test, the federal government is reversing course to make it easier for permanent residents to meet citizenship eligibility requirements.

According to an announcement made on Monday, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has begun providing permanent residents who take their citizenship test their results immediately, and if they fail, allowing them to book another test a few weeks later.

The previous rules required a citizenship applicant who failed the citizenship knowledge test to wait months to have an interview with a citizenship judge who would then decide if they would be granted citizenship.

The new rules will also apply to applicants who are currently waiting to see a citizenship judge due to having failed their knowledge test, allowing them to take their test in weeks and obtain citizenship.

Furthermore, CIC announced that family members are now able to obtain their citizenship individually without all members of their family getting approval of their citizenship application.

The previous rules required all members of a family to obtain their citizenship together, which prevented some individuals who otherwise qualified for citizenship to have to wait because the citizenship application of one member of their family was not approved.

The two new measures are expected to speed up the citizenship acquisition process.

Approximately 200,000 people become Canadian citizens each year, which is about two-thirds of the number who receive permanent residency.

The percentage of citizenship test takers who failed their exam nearly quadrupled from 2009 to 2011 due to a March 2010 change that raised the passing grade of the test and increased the number of topics it covered.


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Vancouver Sun: Hong Kong Immigrants Returning to Asian Homeland

Many Canadians of Hong Kong origin find they can earn and save more in the South East Asian metropolis, which has one of the lowest tax rates in the world, than in Canada (Samuel Louie)

A story in Saturday’s Vancouver Sun reports that an increasing number of Canadian citizenship of Hong Kong origin are moving back to the South East Asian city, according to demographic data:

Statistics Canada’s numbers tell the tale. Despite Canada’s rapid population growth in the past 15 years, there are now 32,000 fewer Hong Kong-born residents in Canada than there were in 1996.

The 2011 National Household Survey, released last week, shows 209,000 Hong Kong-born residents in Canada (about one third of them living in Metro Vancouver). That compares to 241,000 who lived here in 1996.

Their total numbers in Canada have been dropping despite 1,000 to 2,000 new Hong Kong immigrants a year continuing to trickle in. Even accounting for deaths, it is clear that thousands of Hong Kong citizens each year have been leaving Canada.

The draw, according to Vancouver Sun columnist Douglas Todd, is money, which they can earn more of in Hong Kong, and family, who they seek to reunite with.

Hong Kong’s steady economic growth over the last three decades and vibrant free market have given it a better income-earning potential for some professions than Canada, making it a preferred place to live for some Canadian citizens, like Edward Shen:

“(In Hong Kong) I am perhaps working about 60 to 70 per cent of what I was in Vancouver, but saving up more than I used to, given the much lower tax rate (17 per cent flat tax),” Shen wrote in an email.

“Most Hong Kong people know that there is no big money to be made in Canada, even less so in Vancouver. Vancouver in many people’s eyes is a place for retirement of rich people, as they find the living standard in Vancouver very high. Which is true. People who want to make money choose Toronto over Vancouver.”

Hong Kong has a top marginal income tax rate of 17 percent and no capital gains tax.

Todd also suggests that many of the Hong Kong nationals only immigrated to Canada to acquire Canadian citizenship, with no intention of staying long-term, and points to a recent study conducted by the Citizenship and Immigration Canada funded Metropolis research body which found that some Chinese immigrants describe the three year residency requirement for becoming a Canadian citizen as “immigration prison”, which they must endure before they can repatriate back to their home country.

These repatriates are a new type of “international class of citizens”, according to Richard Kurkland, an immigration lawyer interviewed for the story. They are well-off, and like to have the mobility and insurance of having citizenship in more than one country.

The risk, according to Kurkland, is that if the country where these Canadian citizens live faces some type of catastrophe, it will be the responsibility of Canadian taxpayers to pay to get them out, as happened when some of the fifty thousand Canadian citizens living in Lebanon were airlifted out of the country during the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war.

Similar to the Lebanon experience, Hong Kong residents holding Canadian passports could return in large numbers and burden the country’s social programs if China imposes more restrictions on the semi-autonomous jurisdiction, Kurkland warns.


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National Post Reports Increase in Citizenship Crackdown

The pace of citizenships being rescinded due to fraudulent applications has increased significantly with no signs of slowing down

A new story in the National Post, one of Canada’s largest national newspapers, reports an expansion in the crackdown on citizenship fraud:

Normally, Ottawa revokes citizenship from only a handful of Canadians a year. Since 1947, it has happened fewer than 50 times. Recent cases include Nazi war criminals and Branko Rogan, who concealed his involvement in Bosnian war crimes from immigration authorities.

But in September, Jason Kenney, the minister of citizenship and immigration, announced his department had sent letters to 530 Canadians advising them their citizenship was being rescinded. Investigations into another 3,100 suspected of citizenship fraud were still underway, he said.

The article recounts the case of Mark Bilalov, who became a Canadian citizen in 2003 despite a criminal record. Shortly after receiving citizenship, Bilalov was charged for taking part in a home invasion in which the home’s occupant was struck in the head with 20-pound dumbbell until he handed over keys to his store and the combination to his safe.

The charges were later dropped but the case encouraged Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to ask the RCMP to look into how Bilalov became a citizen. The RCMP found that they had no knowledge of the convictions before his citizenship.

He has since been convicted on one charge of making a false statement to obtain his citizenship, and in 2011, was informed that his citizenship would be revoked based on the ommission of having a criminal record when applying for citizenship.

Bilalov is currently fighting the decision in court, where his lawyer has argued it is unfair to revoke his citizenship due to the time that has passed since he committed the fraud on his application.

Cases like Bilalov’s have increased public support for the citizenship revocations, which appears will continue for the forseeable future.


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New Language Requirements For Canadian Citizenship Coming into Effect November 1st

The UBC English Language Institute is one of thousands of locations where individuals can take an IELTS exam. Citizenship applicants will be required to submit the results from CIC-approved third-party tests like the IELTS or provide evidence of completion of secondary or post-secondary education in English or French to be have their application processed.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) announced today that the majority of citizenship applicants will be required to demonstrate language proficiency in English or French when they apply, effective November 1st, 2012.

Currently, CIC assesses applicants’ language proficiency through the interaction their staff have with the applicant, and from the applicant’s citizenship knowledge test results.

Under coming changes, citizenship applicants will be required to submit the results of an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test, and score at least 4.0 and 4.5 on the speaking and listening portions, respectively.

In order for applicants to demonstrate French language proficiency, they will be required to submit the results of the Test d’évaluation de français (TEF), and score at least 181 and 145 on the speaking and listening portions.

Applicants can have the language test requirement waived if they can show evidence of having completed secondary or post-secondary education in English or French.

The new language requirements will only apply to applicants aged 18-54.


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Immigration Minister Announces 3,100 Having Citizenship Revoked, 11,000 Under Investigation

Nearly 11,000 individuals are under investigation by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for submitting fraudulent proof of residence to meet requirements for maintaining permanent residency status and qualifying for Canadian citizenship (Citizenship and Immigration Canada)

The investigation into citizenship and permanent residence fraud has expanded to nearly 11,000 people, and federal immigration authorities are in the process of revoking the citizenship of 3,100 individuals, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced today.

“Today’s announcement is the end-result of the hard work done by the RCMP and CBSA, and they should be congratulated for their dedicated effort in bringing these charges forward. These efforts reinforce our government’s commitment to protecting the integrity of our immigration system,” commented Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

The citizenship and permanent residence fraud constituted a permanent resident paying crooked consultants up to $25,000 for a family of five over four or more years to fabricate falsified proof of Canadian residence, in order to qualify for Canadian citizenship or maintain their permanent resident status.

Individuals falsify proof of residence to meet the requirement under Canadian law for permanent residents to live in Canada for three years out of the preceding four years to be granted Canadian citizenship, and also to meet the requirement to reside in Canada for two out of five years to retain their status as permanent residents.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) said that it is currently investigating 5,000 cases of permanent residents who are believed to be engaged in residence fraud. CIC believes most of these individuals are currently outside the country.

According to CIC, almost 1,800 applicants under investigation have abandoned their citizenship applications as information about the investigation has been publicized.


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Immigration Minister to Make Announcement About 2,900 People Under Investigation for Citizenship Fraud

Statue of Justicia in Ottawa, Canada. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is expected to announce on Monday that upwards of 2,900 people are having their Canadian citizenship revoked for fraudulent citizenship applications.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is scheduled to speak to the press tomorrow and is expected to announce that 2,900 people will be stripped of their Canadian citizenship for providing fake proof of residency.

Most of the individuals under investigation were clients of a small number of consultants who offered to help people qualify for citizenship through fraudulent means. The fraud involved proof of residency being fabricated in order to misrepresent the duration of their residency in Canada in their citizenship application.

The revocation comes after a two year RCMP investigation that found up to 8,300 potential cases of fraud.

The press conference will be held at 10:00 AM tomorrow at the National Press Theatre in Canada.


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