June 2015 saw the coming into effect of the final set of Canadian citizenship reforms that were issued by the Canadian Parliament last year. The intended changes are aimed to strengthen and modernise the process in ensuring that new citizens are able to fully participate in the Canadian economy and society.

The much anticipated final set of reforms are expected to reduce processing time for citizenship applications to less than one year, which will see the current backlog of applications be reduced by more than 80%.

The Changes

One of the major changes stemming from the Act is the attempt to deter “citizens of convenience”, i.e. those who became citizens to obtain a Canadian passport in return for access to taxpayer-funded benefits associated with citizenship status, without having any attachment to Canada, or contributing to the economy. The Act will impose an improved program of integrity, which holds stronger penalties for fraud and misrepresentation (with a maximum fine of $100,000 and/or up to five years in prison). With heavier penalties being implemented, the Canadian Government hope that this will deter unscrupulous applicants that are prepared to misrepresent themselves, or advise other to do so.

In order to regulate Canadian citizenship consultations, the newly-designated Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) has been enacted to act as a regulatory body. Only those that are members of ICCRC can be paid to provide Canadian citizenship advice or representation. Members will generally include lawyers or notaries, as well as paralegals and students at law.

The Canadian Parliament hopes that the Act will better prepare new citizens for life in Canada by imposing basic knowledge and language tests for applicants aged between 14 and 64. Another change that will be in force is a lengthened residential requirement, which is aimed at ensuring applicants develop a strong attachment with Canada prior to their application. The new residency provision will require adult applicants to be physically present in Canada for at least 1,460 days (four years) during the six years prior to the date of application. Additionally, applicants must be physically present for at least 183 days in each of the four calendar years during the qualifying period.

Under the new rules, Canadian citizenship will be extended to include the “Lost Canadians”, those who were born before 1947 and did not become citizens on the 1 January 1947 when the first Canadian Citizenship Act was implemented. The 2015 changes will now extend the Act to include children born in the first generation outside of Canada.

With the numerous changes, it is not unexpected that the Canadian Government have brought into force new application forms to align with the new eligibility rules. The new forms have been available since June 2015 on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) website (Click here). Applicants for Canadian citizenship should note that after June 10, 2015, any applications submitted using the old form will be returned to the applicant.

Impact

Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister (Minister Chris Alexander) expects the new reforms to be a great win for newcomers and Canada, as it will make the immigration process fairer and more generous. The Immigration Minister also expects applicants to be better prepared for participating in Canada’s economy and society, as well as life in Canada. The now streamlined process is expected to “eliminate” long backlogs- a bold statement which will only be proven in time, success of the new forms will be a key part of eliminating backlogs..

Revoking Canadian Citizenship

Late in May 2015), the CIC released measures to strengthen the Government of Canada’s powers to revoke Canadian citizenship of dual citizens that have been convicted of terrorism, treason and high treason, and/ or spying for foreign governments. Revocation will still take place on any applicant that has obtained, retained or resumed citizenship via false representation, fraud or by knowingly concealing material circumstances (such as, information that could have impacted on their eligibility for Canadian citizenship or permanent residence).

The revoking of Canadian citizenship is being extended to cover dual citizens that have/ are taking up arms against Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces, whether in a non-state terrorist group such as ISIS or as a member of a foreign army.

In light of the clamp down by the Canadian Government, a new streamlined Citizenship revocation process has been enacted. The new process will ensure that Canada and Canadians are protected, and that revocation decisions are made fairly, quickly, efficiently and decisively. The new process will see the vast majority of cases being decided by the CIC Minister, when residence fraud, concealing criminal inadmissibility or identity fraud is apparent. The more exceptional cases, such as those involving war crimes and crimes against humanity and cases regarding security, human or international rights violations and organised criminality are to be decided by the Federal Court (FC).

Conclusion

The increase in Canadian citizenship requirements and strengthening of the Government’s ability to revoke citizenship will add prestige and value to those that are intending to secure Canadian citizenship. Furtherly, the increase of convictions on the revoked list and cut down on “citizens of convenience” will provide better protection to Canada’s society and Canada’s Economy.

The Changes to the Canadian Citizenship Act have hopefully resulted in quicker processing times, however it is unclear what stipulates a quicker time, especially where an applicant has convictions which are found on the revoked list.