Northern Exposure

Changes to rules regarding Canadian citizenship

by Arlin Sahinyan

In a time when immigration rules and regulations in many jurisdictions are becoming more stringent, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has made changes to the citizenship guidelines making grants of Canadian citizenship more accessible to permanent residents of Canada. On June 19, Bill C-6 received Royal Assent resulting in immediate changes for citizenship applicants.

Before June 19, applicants were required to intend to continue living in Canada if granted citizenship. Bill C-6 repealed this provision, providing more flexibility to Canadians who may need to live outside of Canada for work or personal reasons.

The age requirement to apply for citizenship was also removed, allowing minors to apply for citizenship without a Canadian parent. Other changes that apply to dual citizens convicted of treason, spying, and terrorism offenses and to individuals serving a conditional sentence in the community are beyond the scope of this article but are discussed on the IRCC website.

Reduction in physical presence obligation

Additional amendments came into force on October 11. Before these amendments, applicants could apply for Canadian citizenship only after being physically present in Canada for four years out of the six years immediately before submitting the application. This requirement has now been reduced to three years (1,095 days) out of the five years preceding the application.

In addition, applicants may now use days spent in Canada before becoming a permanent resident (as a temporary resident, such as a temporary worker, student, or protected person) toward the physical presence requirement. Days spent in Canada before becoming a permanent resident, within five years of applying for citizenship, count as half days (up to 365 days) toward the physical presence requirements.

Practically, this means that applicants living in Canada as temporary workers, students, or protected persons before becoming permanent residents may be eligible to apply for citizenship only two years after becoming permanent residents, instead of three years. Similarly, in order to be eligible to apply for citizenship, applicants required to file Canadian income taxes must have done so for three out of five years (instead of four out of six years).

Reduction in age limit for knowledge and language requirements

In order to obtain Canadian citizenship, individuals must demonstrate that they have knowledge of Canada’s history, geography, economy, politics, etc. by writing the citizenship test and demonstrate that they have an adequate knowledge of French or English. Before the October 11 changes, applicants between 14 and 64 years old were required to satisfy these requirements. With the passing of Bill C-6, this age range was reduced to 18 and 54.

Requisite language ability can be shown through the results of a third-party language test; a diploma, certificate or transcripts from a secondary or post-secondary education program in Canada or abroad where the language of study was English or French; or proof that applicants have reached the Canadian Language Benchmark level 4 or higher through a government-funded language-training program.

More changes to come

More procedural changes are expected to take effect in early 2018. Under these amendments, citizenship officers will have clear authority to seize fraudulent or suspected fraudulent documents used in a citizenship application. In addition, the Federal Court will become the decision-maker in all revocation cases unless the applicant requests that the Minister make the decision.

At present, the Federal Court is the decision-maker for citizenship revocation cases involving false representation, fraud, or knowingly concealing material circumstances related to security, human, or international right violations, and organized criminality. But most revocation cases on the grounds of false representation, fraud, or knowingly concealing material circumstances fall under the Minister’s responsibility.

These changes regarding Canadian citizenship reflect Canada’s welcoming immigration policy. IRCC is clearly working toward making Canadian citizenship more accessible for permanent residents and Canada more attractive to foreigners. We will keep you informed of additional developments.

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