In June 2014, Bill C-24 passed and the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act came into force. The bill marked the most significant changes to Canada’s citizenship laws since 1977. Some of the changes came into effect in the summer of 2014 and the rest we expect will be implemented sometime in 2015. The government hasn’t said when, exactly.
The intent behind Bill C-24 is to increase the efficiency of the citizenship application processing system (which currently has significant backlogs and wait times of two to four years, or more, to obtain citizenship), to strengthen the integrity of the program and to strengthen the requirements to become a citizen. CIC says that is has already reduced its backlog by 22% since June 2014.
Changes Already in Effect
Changes Coming in 2015
New definition of the first generation limit on citizenship for those born outside of Canada
Providing the Immigration Minister with discretionary decision-making authority for citizenship grants
New stream-lined decision making process, including new judicial review and appeals processes
Fast-tracked applications for members of the Canadian Armed Forces
Stricter residence requirement
New intent to reside requirement
New age requirement for language and citizenship tests
Stricter offences and penalties for fraud and misrepresentations
New prohibitions for foreign criminal activity
Extending citizenship to “lost Canadians” and their children born outside of Canada, who were not eligible under the Citizenship Act of 1947
Extending citizenship to second generation children of Canadians outside of Canada serving the government
New grounds and process for revoking citizenship
What are the biggest impacts to come for Canadian permanent residents who want to become citizens, and those born outside of Canada with claims to citizenship?
1) New residence rules. Instead of having to prove physical residence in Canada for three out of four years, applicants will need to prove that they were physically present in Canada for four out of six years. They will also have to show that they were physically present in Canada for at least 183 days per year for each of those four years. Time spent in Canada before becoming a permanent resident will not be counted toward the residence requirement. Under current law, applicants can use some days spent in Canada as a permanent resident as a half day of residence in their application.
2) Intent to reside. Applicants will have to declare their intent to reside in Canada during the application and indicate that they plan to make Canada their permanent home.
3) Language and knowledge testing. Citizenship applicants between 14-64 years of age will have to submit proof of proficiency in either English or French, and take the citizenship knowledge test. Currently, the age range is 18-54 years.
4) Tax implications. Applicants would have to file Canadian taxes if required by the Income Tax Act.
5) Citizenship by descent. Individuals born outside of Canada with at least one parent with Canadian citizenship at the time of their birth are able to obtain citizenship. This does not apply to the second generation born outside of Canada. The rules will be expanded to include children of individuals born outside of Canada while their Canadian parent(s) were serving the government or in the Canadian Armed Forces. In other words, citizenship will pass on to the second generation of children in these cases.
For those thinking of applying for citizenship, the process will be easier under the current rules and we do not know exactly when the new ones will come into play. Applicants are encouraged to get their applications in as soon as they can to avoid stricter rules down the road. Regardless of when you apply, it is important to know the rules that will impact your application and when they come into force.
It is also imperative for foreign nationals in Canada to think about their path to permanent residence and citizenship as early as possible, and to accurately document time spent in Canada as this will be helpful later in the citizenship process.
Dale & Lessmann LLP invites you to contact our experienced Immigration Practice Group for assistance in becoming a Canadian permanent resident or transitioning to Canadian citizenship.