Last month, Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander unveiled the proposed comprehensive reforms to Canada’s Citizenship Act of 1977. Bill C-24, the “Blueprint for Citizenship Improvement” represents Canada’s commitment to improve the processing time for citizenship applications, cut down the backlog and streamline the decision-making process. It is expected that by 2015-2016, the processing time will be reduced to around 10 months and the number of applications to 95,000. This will be a marked improvement from the current wait time of 31 months with 320,000 applications and save taxpayers money as the new system will be more reflective of the actual cost of processing. Presently, in part due to the lengthy wait time, taxpayers subsidize 80% of processing cost.
Strengthening the integrity of the system
Bill C-24 aims to strengthen the Citizenship law and the integrity of the system by tightening it against citizenship fraud and expanding the bar against people with foreign criminal charges and convictions. It also establishes the authority to revoke Canadian citizenship or deny it from Permanent Residents who are convicted of high treason, spying offences or terrorism. As well, Bill C-24 seeks to “reinforce the value of citizenship for the successful integration of new citizens in the labour market and Canadian community.” It requires applicants to show their connections to Canada and embrace Canadian values and traditions. It also honours those who serve Canada by creating a fast-track mechanism for citizenship for Permanent Residents in uniform who are serving in the Canadian Armed Forces.
High value of Canadian citizenship
In his speech before the Richmond community at the Immanuel Christian Reformed Church last February 17, Minister Alexander said that Canadian citizenship is highly valued in this changing world and the international community could look to Canada for stability and as a successful economic model with the best growth prospects. In recognizing the role of immigrants, he stressed that immigration is fundamental to Canada’s success as a country and its cohesion and economic development. Thus, it is just fitting that new citizens show long-term commitment and meaningful attachment to their new country and embrace their duties and responsibilities.
Since 2006, immigration has been sustained at its highest level, averaging 257,000 each year and in 2013, Canada received 333,860 citizenship applications, the highest record level. Last year, 128,936 people were granted Canadian citizenship and so far in 2014, more than 41,000 new citizens took their oath at 462 ceremonies across Canada. The former minister Kenney cited that “approximately 500,000 Canadians can trace their ancestry to the Philippines.”
When approved, Bill C-24 will introduce the following changes to the Citizenship Act:
Longer Residency Requirements
The residency requirement will be lengthened from three out of four years (1,095 days) to four out of six years (1,460 days). According to Minister Alexander, it takes on average four years for a permanent resident to apply for citizenship.
Physical Presence in Canada
At present, there is no requirement to be physically present when applying for citizenship. Under the proposed law, an applicant must have been physically present in Canada for a minimum of 183 days per year in 4 out of 6 years. As well, the time spent in Canada as a non-permanent resident may no longer be counted towards meeting the residency requirement. Those filing their applications when the amendments take effect will have to declare their intent to reside in Canada when they become citizens.
Language Requirements and Knowledge Test
Presently, adult applicants aged 18-54 must meet the language requirements and pass the knowledge test. Bill C-24 proposes to change the age range from 14-64 years for those required to meet the language requirements and pass the knowledge test and applicants will no longer be allowed to assistance of an interpreter in meeting the knowledge requirement. Language and age are keys to economic success and successful integration and it was noted that half of failed citizenship applicants have language problems. To address this issue, Minister Alexander cited that support settlement funding has more than tripled in British Columbia and that more ESL classes will be funded.
Filing of income taxes
There is presently no requirement to file Canadian income taxes to be eligible for a grant of citizenship. Under the proposed bill, adult applicants will be required to file Canadian income taxes for four taxation years within the six years immediately before the date of their applications.
Reducing the processing steps
Processing under the current law involves three steps: from the citizenship officer, to the citizenship judge and back to the citizenship officer. The new system will streamline the process to one step, with the citizenship officer having the authority to decide on citizenship application.
New Fees in effect
Fee changes have been implemented and new citizenship application fees are now $300 which was formerly $100. The new fee will approximate the actual cost of processing of applications which formerly, at $100, only covered 20% of the cost. In justifying the new fees, CIC notes that the citizenship applications fees in the United States is $600USD, €874 in United Kingdom and $470 NZD in New Zealand.
With the proposed changes, it is hoped that new citizens will have stronger connections to Canada and will be fully able to participate in Canadian society.
Grace and Leo are the speakers at a free community information session titled “Bringing Your Parents to Canada”. The session, jointly organized by VSB-SWIS and Collingwood Neigbourhood House, will be this Saturday, March 8, 2014, 1:30pm-3:30pm, 4288 Joyce Street, Vancouver, BC (a block from Joyce Skytrain station).
Grace and Leo are members of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) and are licensed immigration consultants. For questions or comments, they may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.