Citizenship Act Overhauled

On February 6, 2014, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced the largest changes to Canada’s Citizenship Act since 1977. Called the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (Bill C-24), these reforms are aimed at reinforcing Canadian values while move toward a faster and more efficient system, according the Government of Canada.

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“Canadians understand that citizenship should not be simply a passport of convenience. Citizenship is a pledge of mutual responsibility and a shared commitment to values rooted in our history” said Minister Alexander. On the face of it however, the changes to the Act will make it more difficult to become a citizen, both in terms of time required and overall requirements for prospective Canadians.

“Citizenship is a fundamental status — not something that is ‘deserved,’ ” said Loly Rico, president of the Canadian Council of Refugees as quoted in the Toronto Star. “It is wrong to use citizenship rules to punish people for wrongdoing — that’s the role of the criminal system.” The new rules rules create a new avenue for the government to revoke citizenship in the case of dual citizens who are convicted on terrorism or espionage charges.

One of the proposed changes is to simplify the decision making process on applications. This is intended to address the issue of extended processing times. Currently 80% of applications are filed in 24 months for routine application and 36 months for more complex cases.

What do the changes to the Citizenship Act mean for you? Here are main areas to consider for those seeking Canadian Citizenship:

  • Fees for applications for citizenship will go up from $100 to $300 so that an applicant for citizenship would pay a total of $400, including the fee for the right of citizenship for all successful applicants.
  • Residency requirements increase from 3 out of 4 years to 4 out of 6
  • Strict regulation for immigration consultants and significant increase in penalties for citizenship fraud
  • The ability to deny citizenship to criminals charged with or convicted of serious crimes outside Canada as well as criminals serving a sentence outside Canada.

Before and After Comparison

For more details on the planned changes, the table below summarizes the current versus the future state of the citizenship system (see also the CIC’s comparison table)

Residency
  • Previously three out of four years (1,095 days);
  • Time as a non-permanent resident (non-PR) may be counted toward residency
  • Now requires physical presence for four years (1,460 days) out of the six years and 183 days minimum of physical presence per year in four out of six years;
  • Eliminate use of time spent in Canada as a non-permanent resident (non-PR);
Language and Knowledge of Canada
  • Previously adult applicants aged 18–54 must meet language requirements and pass knowledge test, can have assistance of an interpreter
  • Extended age requirement for knowledge test to 14–64
  • Applicants must now meet knowledge requirement in English or French
Criminal Ineligibility
  • Bars getting citizenship from people with domestic criminal charges and convictions
  • Expands bar on getting citizenship to people with foreign criminal charges and convictions
Citizenship process
  • Citizenship grant is a three-step decision-making process involving citizenship officer, judge and the
  • Changes citizenship grant to a single-step process that reduces duplication and improves processing times.
  • Fast track process for permanent residents who are serving in the Canadian Armed Forces
Canadian Taxes
  • No requirement to file Canadian income taxes to be eligible for citizenship
  • Requires adult applicants to file Canadian income tax return as per Income Tax Act
Use of citizenship representatives and penalties for fraud
  • Consultants not required to be registered or regulated in order to represent individuals in citizenship manner;
  • Fines and penalties for fraud are a maximum of $1,000 and/or one year in prison
  • Citizenship consultants will be regulated in a manner similar to immigration consultants
  • Fines and penalties for fraud are a maximum $100,000 and/or five years in prison