Canada has always been proud of its naturalization rate among immigrants as compared to other countries. However, a recent Toronto Star article suggests that for some the road to citizenship has become fraught with roadblocks. Intentional or not, the article outlines how many immigrants “will have to wait as long as nine years to become full-fledged citizens.”
How did this happen? And what does this mean for immigrants, and for Canada?
Recently, we have been seeing complaints about an increase in requests for applicants to complete the citizenship residence questionnaire. On newcomer discussion boards in particular the key issue has been an unreasonably long processing time. This issue has been confirmed by the Toronto Star article. The article suggests that a “crack down on citizenship fraud” may be to blame, but there are a number of other factors that may be contributing to a dip in our access to citizenship.
The residence questionnaire requires individuals to provide information and a variety of documents as further proof that they have resided in Canada for three years. Many find it difficult to obtain all necessary documents within the timeframe allocated (45 days), especially without advance notice that this will be necessary. For example, some records must be requested and then sent from the individual’s source country, or picked up in person from the source country by the individual or a retained lawyer.
Proof of Language Skills
The proof now required to demonstrate official language knowledge may also be a deterrent to some applicants. Those who have not been educated in French or English must either pay for a language assessment test or provide the results of federally funded language course they have completed.
Citizenship Exam and Guide
Citizenship exam failure rates have also increased as a result of changes (made in 2009 and again in 2011) to the citizenship study guide on which the exams are based. The new guide places more emphasis on Canada’s military history and sports figures, for example.
Processing times are also getting longer at every stage. According to the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) website, it already takes 21 months to process “routine Canadian citizenship applications.” There are delays before applicants can write the citizenship exam, there are delays until residence questionnaires are processed (up to 2 years), and there are delays until citizenship ceremonies take place. The idea that immigrants may become citizens after three years of permanent residence must be tempered with the reality that processing times can double or triple that time frame.
These developments, along with recent changes that deny citizenship to those born abroad to Canadian citizens unless their parents were either born or naturalized inCanada, reduce the pool of potential citizens.
In our recent report, Shaping the future: Canada’s rapidly changing immigration policies, Naomi Alboim and Karen Cohl argue,
“Changes to the rules for obtaining citizenship are also weakening Canada’s democracy as growing numbers of people either will not be able to obtain citizenship, will have to wait longer, or go through ‘more hoops’ to do so. Without citizenship, individuals cannot participate in the fundamental aspects of democratic life, including the opportunity to vote for the municipal, provincial or federal representatives who make decisions that affect their lives. [...] All those who cannot or do not qualify, or must wait longer to pursue citizenship will be deprived, at least for a time, of the opportunity to participate in the fundamental aspects of democratic life.” (page 69)
We do not imagine that our federal government intended to decrease access to democracy for Canada’s immigrants. But this appears to be a consequence of some of its policies designed to “crackdown” on citizenship fraud.
Alboim and Cohl argue that such policy changes that lack, or run contrary to evidence, could have unintended consequences. They write, “Many changes to the family class and citizenship are based on anecdote without evidence to show the magnitude of the problems. […] [T]he sheer pace and scope of changes to immigration policy and programs creates a climate of unpredictability.” (pages 65-66)
A national discussion is essential in this climate – one that seeks to ask the right questions. A discussion about what kind of country we want to be and how immigration can help us get there. We believe that these four principles should guide the conversation and any subsequent immigration reform:
- Immigration policy should be based primarily on long-term social and economic objectives and a commitment to citizenship.
- Immigration policy should be evidence-based, comprehensive, fair and respectful of human rights.
- Immigration policy should be developed through public and stakeholder engagement, meaningful federal-provincial-territorial consultation, and democratic processes.
- Immigration policy should enhance Canada’s reputation around the world.
The time for a national conversation is now. In the coming weeks, we’ll propose some questions to guide us in this conversation. We encourage you to join us in this discussion.
- Shaping the future: Canada’s rapidly changing immigration policies
- New Survey Research Reveals Canada’s Attitudes towards Citizenship
- Five reasons Canada leads the world on immigration
- Immigration Policy: The Sound of One Hand Clapping
- Recent Immigration Changes Deserve Debate
- Sticky Fingers and Social Glue