What to Expect from Citizenship Act Reforms?

Alexander Belyakov, Toronto.

The first comprehensive reforms to the Citizenship Act since 1977 are coming into force on June 11, 2015. Our article about the citizenship reforms (published in Ukrainian language under the title “Варто поспішити з подачею заяв на громадянство” in the end of May) received about 2600 views on the newspaper’s website and caused a broad discussion in some social media groups and in our community. We hope that everyone eligible to apply for citizenship was able to submit their applications on time.

Many changes – part of a package of measures approved by Parliament last year – will be affecting all new applicants and probably the existing citizens. The controversial approach of these reforms already received criticism from various parties in 2014. Now that the law has come into force, some non-profit organisations are ready to challenge it in the courts.

The BC Civil Liberties Association (with the financial assistance of The Law Foundation of BC and the Province of British Columbia) has analysed the latest changes and concluded: “Last Friday, part of Bill C-24 went into effect, officially creating a two-tier citizenship system. Under this law, the only Canadians who can never lose their citizenship are those born in Canada who do not have another nationality (and are not eligible to apply for another nationality). On the other hand, Canadians with another nationality (and those who are eligible to obtain another nationality) now have second-class status, even if they were born in Canada: under Bill C-24, their citizenship can be stripped.”

Citizenship and Immigration Canada explains that the new provisions will deter citizens of convenience – those who become citizens for the sake of having a Canadian passport to return to Canada to access taxpayer-funded benefits that come with citizenship status, without having any attachment to Canada, or contributing to the economy.

Chris Alexander, Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister, said: “Our reforms ensure new citizens are better prepared for full participation in Canada’s economy and Canadian society. This is a win for newcomers, and a win for Canada in terms of making the most of the opportunities that our fair and generous immigration system provides. We are eliminating long backlogs, and streamlining our own processes. At the same time, we are ensuring Canadian citizenship is highly valued and stays that way. Promise made, promise kept when it comes to strengthening the value of Canadian citizenship.”

As a result of these changes, adult applicants must declare their intent to reside in Canada once they become citizens and meet their personal income tax obligations in order to be eligible for citizenship. Adult applicants must now be physically present in Canada for at least 1,460 days (four years) during the six years before the date of their application, and they must be physically present in Canada for at least 183 days in each of four calendar years within the qualifying period. This is aimed at ensuring that citizenship applicants develop a strong attachment to Canada.

Applicants between the ages of 14 and 64 must meet basic knowledge and language requirements. This is aimed at ensuring that more new citizens are better prepared for life in Canada. Citizenship will be automatically extended to additional “Lost Canadians” on June 11th, who were born before 1947, and did not become citizens on January 1, 1947 when the first Canadian Citizenship Act came into effect. This will also apply to their children born in the first generation outside Canada.

To help improve program integrity, there are now stronger penalties for fraud and misrepresentation (to a maximum fine of $100,000 and/or up to five years in prison). This is aimed at deterring unscrupulous applicants who are prepared to misrepresent themselves, or advise others to do so. The newly-designated Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) is the new regulatory body for citizenship consultants. Only members of the ICCRC, lawyers or notaries (including paralegals and students at law) can be paid to provide citizenship applicants with representation or advice.

New application forms, aligned with the new rules for eligibility, will be available on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website as of June 11, 2015. Any applications received using the old forms and applications received after June 10, 2015 will be returned to the applicant. In other words, this could affect your application if Citizenship and Immigration Canada receives it on or after June 11, 2015.

According to the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website, applications made using current application forms must be received by the Citizenship and Immigration Canada on or before June 10, 2015, and be complete. The Citizenship and Immigration Canada will not consider the date of mailing (postmark). If you cannot submit a complete application before June 10, wait to submit an application until, on, or after June 11, 2015. New application forms must be used if submitting an application that will be received on or after June 11, 2015.

The good news: new citizenship applications are being finalized in a year or less, and it is expected that the backlog of older files will have been eliminated by the end of this fiscal year. Individuals who submitted a citizenship application before April 1, 2015 will have a decision by March 31, 2016.