Citizenship rules become much tougher

By Sukhram Ramkissoon

Citizenship and Immigration issued reforms to strengthen and modernize Canada’s citizenship laws that came into force on June 11.

The changes – part of a package of measures approved by Parliament last year – ensure new citizens can fully and quickly participate in Canada’s economy and Canadian society.

The first set of provisions that came into force to strengthen Canadian citizenship and speed up application processing times are already paying off.

New citizenship applications are being finalized in a year or less and it is expected 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.

It is quite clear that the intent of Parliament from one of it’s new reforms, is to 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.

As a result, residency requirements have become very stringent; likewise other changes.

Key changes as of June 11 include:

  • 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 must be physically present in Canada for at least 183 days in each of four calendar years within the qualifying period. This is to ensure applicants develop a strong attachment to Canada.
  • Applicants between the ages of 14 and 64 must meet basic knowledge and language requirements. This is to ensure that more new citizens are better prepared for life in Canada.
  • Citizenship will be automatically extended to “Lost Canadians” on June 11 who were born before 1947 and did not become citizens on Jan. 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.
  • Adult applicants must declare their intent to reside in Canada once they become citizens and must establish that they have filed income tax for the qualifying period of eligibility.
  • There are stiffer penalties for fraud and misrepresentation (to a maximum fine of $100,000 and / or up to five years in prison). This is to deter unscrupulous applicants who are prepared to misrepresent themselves or advise others to do so. Under the old Act, the maximum fines for fraud or misrepresentation were $1000 and / or one year in prison.
  • The newly designated Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) is now the 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 are available on the CIC website. Applications on the old forms received after June 10 will be returned to the applicant.

It is now more difficult for permanent residents to meet the present criteria for Canadian citizenship and it is advisable for those thinking of applying to ensure that they file their income tax with Canada Revenue Agency from the year they became permanent residents, and of course, be physically present in Canada for at least four years during the six years during which they remained in Canada for half of the year (183) days) in each of the qualifying years.

Sukhram Ramkissoon is a member of ICCRC and specializes in immigration matters at 3089 Bathurst St., Suite 219A, Toronto. Phone 416-789-5756.

Sukhram Ramkissoon
Sukhram Ramkissoon