The Canadian Citizenship Act: Important Changes

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The Canadian Citizenship Act: Important Changes

The Government of Canada is proposing a number of changes to the Citizenship Act to make the citizenship program more efficient so that qualified applicants can obtain citizenship more quickly.

New decision-making model for citizenship applications

This new model, along with other initiatives contained in this reform, would make the citizenship program more efficient and help reduce processing times. Obtaining citizenship is currently a three-step process that involves duplication of work: Citizenship officers review the files and prepare them for a citizenship judge, who approves or rejects the application, returns it to the officer, who then grants citizenship on behalf of the Minister or recommends an appeal of the judge’s decision.

The proposed amendments include a new single-step model which would streamline the process, enabling citizenship officers to make decisions on citizenship applications. Citizenship judges would remain responsible for the important role of presiding over citizenship ceremonies and administering the oath of citizenship, which is the final step before citizenship is granted.

Increasing Citizenship Fees

As of February 6, 2014, the fee for Canadian citizenship for adult applications for a grant of citizenship, resumptions and adult adoptions increases from $100 to $300. The $100 Right of Citizenship fee for successful applicants remains the same. Fees for applications for a grant or resumption of citizenship for a minor child of a Canadian citizen are exempt from this change. Previously, applicants paid less than 20 percent of the actual cost to the government to process their citizenship applications. This increase brings the fees more in line with the full cost of processing the applications and decreases the burden on Canadian taxpayers.

Over the past six years, Canada has had the highest-ever sustained level of immigration. As resources for processing these applications have not kept pace, backlogs have developed. Raising the fees is a step in the government’s plan to move toward full cost recovery to offset costs.

Complete applications

CIC is seeking stronger authority through these amendments to define what constitutes a complete application and what evidence applicants must provide. The ability to require up-front proof that certain requirements are met and to return incomplete applications will significantly improve efficiency and ensure resources are focused on processing only complete applications.

Discretionary grants

Under the current Act, the Governor in Council (GIC) may direct the Minister to grant citizenship to any person to alleviate special and unusual hardship or to reward service of an exceptional value to Canada.

Under the proposed changes, decision-making for discretionary grants would move from the GIC to the Minister, streamlining the process. Moving the decision-making authority to the Minister will improve applicant service by eliminating an extra step. Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand already have similar approaches.

Judicial review and appeal process

Proposed changes would give access to higher courts for all applicants. CIC proposes to amend the review process for decisions on citizenship applications. Currently, an appeal of a citizenship judge’s decision can go to the Federal Court (FC) but no higher. Decisions by citizenship officers, who have authority to decide certain cases under the Act, can be judicially reviewed and challenged in a higher court.

The amendments would introduce a uniform review system for all decisions under the Citizenship Act. Judicial review of citizenship decisions would be subject to leave of the Federal Court. The Federal Court decision could then be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal, where the Federal Court certifies a serious question of general importance. The leave and certification filters would prevent spurious litigation. Further appeals are available to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Citizenship proof

Under the current Act, a citizenship certificate must be issued to each person who is granted citizenship or who requests proof of their citizenship from the Department. The legislative changes would allow for additional ways to verify citizenship in the future, such as by electronic means.

Authority to abandon a citizenship application

These changes would increase processing efficiency and would support ongoing efforts to modernize citizenship processing. The Act does not currently provide the explicit authority to declare an application abandoned in situations where an applicant fails to appear for the citizenship test or an appointment with an officer. CIC proposes to amend the Act to provide clear authority to determine that an application has been abandoned if the applicant fails to comply with a request of information or to attend an interview. The abandonment power would apply to all applications, at any stage after processing has begun, up until the oath is taken.

Source: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/media/backgrounders/2014/2014-02-06.asp

 

Reinforcing the value of Canadian citizenship

Canadian citizenship comes with rights and responsibilities. Bill C-24 proposes a number of amendments to the Citizenship Act to reinforce the value of Canadian citizenship. The amendments support the government’s commitment 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 have a strong attachment to Canada.

Residency requirements

Proposed amendments include changes to citizenship residency requirements. According to the current Citizenship Act, applicants must have resided in Canada for three out of four years (1,095 out of 1,460 days), yet ‘residence’ is not defined. As a result, it has been possible for individuals who have spent little time in Canada to acquire citizenship. The amendments would require applicants to be physically present for four years (1,460 days) in a six-year period, and require applicants to be physically present in Canada for at least 183 days per year in four of the six years.

Another proposed change relates to the amount of time applicants spend in Canada before becoming permanent residents (PRs). Currently, each day that applicants spend in Canada before they become PRs counts as a half day of residence toward fulfilling their residency requirement for citizenship. Under the proposed measures, time spent in Canada as a non-PR would no longer meet citizenship residency requirements.

Finally, Bill C-24 would require citizenship applicants to declare their intention to reside in Canada before citizenship is granted. This measure would signal that citizenship is for those who intend to make their home in Canada. Citizenship is not for individuals who solely want the convenience of holding a Canadian passport in order to benefit from generous tax-payer-funded benefits without contributing to Canadian society.

Income Tax filing requirement for citizenship

In addition, proposed changes would require applicants to file Canadian income taxes, if required under the Income Tax Act, in order to be eligible to apply for citizenship.

Language and knowledge requirements

Knowledge of Canadian history, norms and values as well as the responsibilities and privileges of Canadian citizenship is a key factor in civic participation and economic success.  Extensive research has consistently shown that the ability to communicate effectively in either French or English is a key factor in the success of new citizens in Canada.

Proposed changes would expand the age group from 18–54 to 14–64 of citizenship applicants required to demonstrate language proficiency and take the knowledge test. Language and/or knowledge requirements may be waived on compassionate grounds and on a case-by-case basis.

Extending citizenship to “Lost Canadians”

There remains a small number of “Lost Canadians,” the majority of whom were born before 1947 such as some first generation children born abroad to war brides and service men who were not eligible for Canadian citizenship. The proposed legislation would address their situations. For more information, see the separate backgrounder on “Lost Canadians.”

Source: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/media/backgrounders/2014/2014-02-06a.asp

 

Cracking down on citizenship fraud

Proposed amendments to the Citizenship Act would reinforce the value of citizenship and strengthen the integrity of the system. Crooked citizenship consultants have facilitated hundreds of individuals in obtaining citizenship through fraudulent means. As of October 2013, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was investigating several large-scale cases of residence fraud involving more than 3,000 Canadian citizens and 5,000 permanent residents (PRs). There are also reports that nearly 2,000 individuals linked to these investigations have withdrawn their citizenship applications. The proposed measures in Bill C-24 would help combat citizenship fraud and uphold the integrity of Canada’s citizenship program.

Regulating citizenship consultants

Changes to the legislation include a new authority for the government to develop regulations to designate a regulatory body whose members would be authorized to act as consultants in citizenship matters and to monitor and collect information concerning citizenship consultants. There would also be authority to make regulations to specify what information applicants must include in their applications, including identifying their representative or consultant. Failure to provide this information could result in the return of their application. This would help Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) enforce the proposed new provisions relating to authorized representatives.

Amendments would also make it an offence for unauthorized individuals to knowingly represent or advise a person on a citizenship application or hearing for a fee. Penalties would include a fine of $100,000 or up to two years in prison, or both in the case of an indictable conviction. The penalty for a summary conviction would include a fine of up to $20,000, or up to six months in prison, or both.

Increasing offences and penalties

The penalties in the current Act have not increased since 1977 and are ineffective in deterring individuals from committing citizenship-related offences, such as misrepresentation. Currently, an individual who commits citizenship fraud faces a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to one year in prison. The proposed new penalty for an indictable fraud offence is a fine of up to $100,000 and/or five years in prison. The penalty for a summary offence would include a fine of up to $50,000 and/or two years in prison.

The proposed legislation would also add a provision to refuse citizenship to applicants who have made a material misrepresentation or withheld material facts, relating to a relevant matter, such as concerning whether they meet the eligibility requirements for a grant of citizenship. This provision is in line with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA).Under the change, applicants who are refused on this basis would be barred from reapplying for citizenship for five years.

Amendments would also make it an offence for an individual to counsel, induce, aid or abet anyone to directly or indirectly misrepresent or withhold material facts relating to a case. In such instances, penalties for an indictable conviction would include a fine of $100,000 and/or five years in prison and—for a summary conviction—a maximum fine of $50,000 and/or two years in prison.

Streamlining revocation

The Government of Canada proposes to streamline the citizenship revocation process. Currently, the citizenship revocation process generally involves three steps: the CIC Minister, the Federal Court (FC) and the Governor in Council (GIC). Under the proposed model, the GIC would no longer have a role, resulting in a faster, more efficient process.

Under the new model, the majority of the revocation cases involving allegations that an individual obtained citizenship by fraud— those related to residence fraud, concealing criminal inadmissibility, or identity fraud—would be decided by the CIC Minister. The Minister’s decision could be judicially reviewed, with leave of the FC. Cases decided by the FC could be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal (FCA) if the FC certifies a serious question of general importance. The FCA decision could be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, with leave of that Court.

More exceptional revocation cases which raise complex issues of fact and law, such as those involving war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as cases regarding security, other human or international rights violations and organized criminality, would instead be decided by the FC. In these cases, the Minister of Public Safety could ask the FC to make a finding of inadmissibility as well as a revocation order, allowing for a faster removal order.

Under the proposed changes, individuals who have had their citizenship revoked for fraud or misrepresentation would be barred from reapplying for 10 years—up from the current bar of five years.

In practice, this would reduce the FC workload and result in a faster decision and faster removal in some cases, while still ensuring fairness and legal recourse.

Source: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/media/backgrounders/2014/2014-02-06b.asp

 

Protecting and promoting Canada’s interests and values

The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and Crown servants working abroad and their commitment to defending the values and interests of Canada. This is why new legislation to amend the Citizenship Act would fast-track citizenship for permanent residents (PRs) and individuals on exchange who are serving Canada in the CAF and allow children born to those serving Canada abroad to pass on citizenship to their children. It would also take citizenship away from dual citizens or deny citizenship for PRs who commit certain offences against Canada’s national interests.

Fast-track citizenship for members of the Canadian Armed Forces

Bill C-24 would accelerate citizenship for PRs and individuals on exchange who are serving Canada in the CAF by reducing the qualifying period for citizenship by one year. This measure honours the important contributions of those who serve our country.

Citizenship by descent

The government has been working hard to maintain the integrity of Canada’s generous immigration system and to strengthen the value of Canadian citizenship. That is why the Citizenship Act was amended in 2009 to limit—with a few exceptions—citizenship by descent to one generation born outside Canada.

This means that children born to Canadian parents outside Canada would only be Canadian at birth if:

  • one parent was born in Canada; or
  • one parent became a Canadian citizen by immigrating to Canada and was later granted citizenship (also called naturalization).

The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act proposes to extend the exception to the first generation limit to children of Crown servants. This amendment would ensure that children of Crown servants and members of the CAF who were born or adopted abroad while their parent(s) was (were) serving a federal, provincial or territorial government abroad are not negatively affected by their parents’ service to Canada, and that they are able to pass on Canadian citizenship to any children they may have or adopt abroad.

Revoke or deny citizenship of those who commit acts of terrorism or acts against Canadian interests

In an effort to reinforce the value of Canadian citizenship, proposed amendments would enable the government to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens for membership in an armed force or organized armed group engaged in armed conflict with Canada, and deny it to PRs for the same reasons.

It would also provide authority to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens and deny it to PRs who are convicted of terrorism, high treason, treason or spying offences, depending on the sentence. This measure would underscore the government’s commitment to protecting the safety and security of Canadians and promoting Canadian interests and values.

Strengthening safeguards for adoptees

The language of the current Citizenship Act does not adequately reflect that international adoption requirements must be met with respect to international adoptions completed in Canada. Under the new rules, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) would require that these adoptions are not done in a way that circumvents the Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption, where it applies, or other legal and procedural requirements for inter-country adoptions, such as laws of the adopted child’s country of origin before citizenship is granted.

Barring citizenship for foreign criminality and national security

Proposed amendments would deny citizenship to criminals charged with or convicted of serious crimes outside Canada as well as criminals serving a sentence outside Canada. Currently, the Citizenship Act bars applicants from citizenship when they have been charged with or convicted of any indictable offence in Canada, or if they are serving a sentence in Canada. There is no such bar for foreign criminality. Bill C-24 would expand the bar to include individuals who have been charged with or convicted of similar crimes abroad from obtaining citizenship. Therefore, an individual would not be granted citizenship while subject to a foreign criminal proceeding, or for a conviction and sentence outside Canada. A ministerial waiver would exist for exceptional cases to ensure that applicants facing unfounded charges would not be permanently barred.

Moreover, the changes would strengthen CIC’s ability to refuse citizenship to individuals who pose a security risk bringing the Citizenship Act more closely in line with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and strengthen CIC’s ability to refuse citizenship to individuals who pose a security risk. Currently, refusal on security grounds is limited to cases where an applicant “will” engage in threat-related activities. Under the change, the Governor in Council could deny citizenship in cases where a person “has, is or may engage” in threat-related activity. Applicants would be barred from reapplying for citizenship for ten years.

Source: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/media/backgrounders/2014/2014-02-06c.asp

 

Extending citizenship to “Lost Canadians”

On January 1, 1947, the first Canadian Citizenship Act came into effect. Before that date, a person who was born or naturalized in Canada was considered a British subject. The Citizenship Act of 1947 established who was, and who could become, a Canadian citizen.

In 2009, the Government of Canada implemented changes that restored or gave citizenship to the vast majority of people who had lost it or never received it due to outdated legislation—including to some born before 1947. Yet a small number of “Lost Canadians” such as some first generation children born abroad to war brides and service men were still not eligible for Canadian citizenship.

The proposed amendments to the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act include extending citizenship to most of the remaining “Lost Canadians” who were born before the first Canadian Citizenship Act took effect in 1947 as well as to their children who were born outside Canada in the first generation.

In practice, Bill C-24 would give Canadian citizenship to  individuals who were born or naturalized in Canada as well as to those  who were British subjects residing in Canada prior to January 1, 1947 (or April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland), but who  were not eligible for Canadian citizenship when the first Canadian Citizenship Act took effect. Retroactive citizenship for these “Lost Canadians” would date to January 1, 1947 (or April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland).

The changes would also retroactively give Canadian citizenship to the children of these “Lost Canadians” who were born abroad in the first generation. Citizenship would also date to January 1, 1947 (or April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland), or to the child’s date of birth if they were born after January 1, 1947 (or April 1, 1949, for Newfoundland).

Source: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/media/backgrounders/2014/2014-02-06d.asp

 

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act: A comparative view

Current Act

Proposed Act

  • Residence for three out of four years (1,095 days);
  • No requirement that resident be physically present;
  • Time as a non-permanent resident (non-PR) may be counted toward residence for citizenship;
  • No intent to reside provision
  • Requires physical presence for four years (1,460 days) out of the six years;
  • 183 days minimum of physical presence per year in four out of six years;
  • Eliminate use of time spent in Canada as a non-permanent resident (non-PR);
  • Introduce “intent to reside” provision
  • Adult applicants aged 18–54 must meet language requirements and pass knowledge test; upper age limit of 54 currently established by policy, not in legislation;
  • Applicants can meet knowledge requirement with assistance of an interpreter
  • Requires applicants aged 14–64 to meet language requirements and pass knowledge test;
  • Applicants must meet knowledge requirement in English or French
  • Most “Lost Canadians” had their citizenship restored in 2009, but some “Lost Canadians” were not covered by that  change and are not eligible for citizenship
  • Extends citizenship to “Lost Canadians” born before 1947 as well as their 1st generation children born abroad
  • Bars getting citizenship from people with domestic criminal charges and convictions
  • Expands bar on getting citizenship to people with foreign criminal charges and convictions
  • Consultants not required to be registered or regulated in order to represent individuals in citizenship manner;
  • Few tools to deter fraud and ensure program integrity;
  • Fines and penalties for fraud are a maximum of $1,000 and/or one year in prison
  • Defines who is an authorized representative and provides authority to develop regulations to designate a regulatory body whose members would be authorized to act as consultants in citizenship matters;
  • Authority to refuse applicant for fraud; fines and penalties for fraud are a maximum $100,000 and/or five years in prison
  • Governor in Council (GIC) final decision maker for citizenship revocation
  • Gives Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) Minister authority to decide on routine revocation cases
  • Complex revocation cases such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, security, other  human or international rights violations, and organized criminality decided by the Federal Court
  • GIC final decision maker on discretionary grants of citizenship
  • Gives CIC Minister the authority to decide on discretionary grants of citizenship
  • Limited authority to define what constitutes a complete application
  • Establishes authority to define what constitutes a complete application and what evidence applicants must provide
  • Citizenship grant is a three-step decision-making process
  • Changes citizenship grant to a single-step process that reduces duplication and improves processing times.
  • No requirement to file Canadian income taxes to be eligible for a grant of citizenship
  • Requires adult applicants to file Canadian income taxes, as required under the Income Tax Act, to be eligible for citizenship
  • No authority to revoke citizenship for acts against Canada’s national interest
  • Establishes the authority to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens who were members of an armed force or an organized armed group engaged in armed conflict with Canada, and deny it to PRs for the same reasons
  • Authority to revoke Canadian citizenship and deny it to PRs who are convicted of terrorism, high treason, treason, or spying offences, depending on the sentence received
  • No fast-track mechanism for citizenship for members of the military to honour their service to the Canadian Armed Forces and address deployment challenges
  • Creates a fast-track mechanism for citizenship for PRs serving with—and individuals on exchange with— the Canadian Armed Forces to honour their service to Canada

 

Source: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/media/backgrounders/2014/2014-02-06e.asp

 

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