CITIZENSHIP and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced on Thursday that reforms to the Citizenship Act received final passage and royal assent. The reforms will strengthen the rules around access to citizenship to ensure that new citizens are better prepared for full participation and integration into Canadian society, with the goal of fostering in new Canadians a stronger attachment to Canadian values and traditions, says the federal government.
Key reforms include:
* Improving efficiency: Canada’s citizenship program is being improved by reducing the decision-making process from three steps to one. It is expected that, by 2015–2016, this change will bring the average processing time for citizenship applications down to under a year. It is also projected that by 2015-2016, the current backlog will be reduced by more than 80 percent.
* Reinforcing the value of Canadian citizenship: The government is ensuring citizenship applicants maintain strong ties to Canada. These amendments to the Citizenship Act provide a clearer indication that the “residence” period to qualify for citizenship in fact requires physical presence in Canada.
* More applicants will now be required to meet language requirements and pass a knowledge test to ensure that new citizens are better prepared to fully participate in Canadian society. New provisions will also help individuals with strong ties to Canada, such as by automatically extending citizenship to additional “Lost Canadians” who were born before 1947 as well as to their children born in the first generation outside Canada.
* Cracking down on citizenship fraud: The updated Citizenship Act includes stronger penalties for fraud and misrepresentation (a maximum fine of $100,000 and / or five years in prison) and expands the grounds to bar an application for citizenship to include foreign criminality, which will help improve program integrity.
* Protecting and promoting Canada’s interests and values: Finally, the amendments bring Canada in line with most of our peer countries, by providing that citizenship can be revoked from dual nationals who are convicted of serious crimes such as terrorism, high treason and spying offences (depending on the sentence received) or who take up arms against Canada. Permanent residents who commit these acts will be barred from citizenship.
* As a way of recognizing the important contributions of those who serve Canada in uniform, permanent residents who are members of the Canadian Armed Forces will have quicker access to Canadian citizenship. The Act also stipulates that children born to Canadian parents serving abroad as servants of the Crown are able to pass on Canadian citizenship to children they have or adopt outside Canada.
* Requiring 14-64 year-olds to meet knowledge and language requirements provides an incentive for more individuals to acquire official language proficiency and civics knowledge, which helps them successfully integrate into Canadian society.
* Citizenship applicants will need to be physically present in Canada for a total of four out of their last six years. In addition, they will need to be physically present in Canada for 183 days per year for at least four of those six years. These provisions will come into force in approximately a year.
* Under the new streamlined decision-making model, citizenship officers will decide all aspects of a citizenship application. Under the old model, obtaining citizenship was a three-step process that involved duplication of work.
* Since 2006, Canada has welcomed over 1,300,000 proud new Canadians. Citizenship and Immigration Canada received 333,860 citizenship applications in 2013, the highest volume ever.
“Our government is proud to announce that the first comprehensive reforms to the Citizenship Act in a generation have now become law. Moving forward, the value of citizenship will be reinforced and new citizens will be able to acquire citizenship more quickly. Our government has strengthened the rules around access to citizenship to ensure that they reflect its true value, and that new citizens are better prepared for full participation for life in Canada. Canadian citizenship is highly valued around the world and, with this balanced set of reforms, our government is ensuring that this remains so,” said Alexander.
“Our government expects new Canadians to take part in the democratic life, economic potential and the rich cultural traditions of Canada. Our government remains committed to the successful integration of new citizens into our labour market and our communities, ensuring that they are better prepared to assume the responsibilities of citizenship, and fostering in new Canadians a strong attachment to Canada.”