Understanding Canada’s new citizenship rules

By Catherine Sas, 
Special to The Post
The summer is always a busy time for immigration reforms. This summer brought in significant changes to Canada's citizenship laws. On June 19, 2014 the "Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act” received Royal Assent fundamentally changing many key aspects of Canada's citizenship laws. A bulletin on CIC's website states as follows:
These reforms will strengthen the rules around access to citizenship to ensure that Canadians 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.
What’s new? Residency requirement defined and increased
For the first time, "residency" is actually defined. In previous Citizenship Acts residency was not defined, which meant that it was left to be interpreted by the courts under judicial review challenges. Judicial pronouncement on what constituted residency varied drastically, resulting in inconsistent decision making in the courts. Over the years, the courts had been leaning more and more towards a physical presence test requiring a person to be physically in Canada for 1095 days within a four year period. Now that trend has become law. However, the time needed to be in Canada has increased from three years of residency within a four year period (1095/1460) to four years of residency within a six-year period (1460/2190).
To be eligible to apply for citizenship, an individual must have been physically present in Canada for 1460 days within a six-year window. In addition, you must be in Canada for a minimum of 183 days for four years out of the six. It is not possible to acquire citizenship without being in Canada the majority of each year such that a person is now resident in Canada for tax purposes. If you want to become a Canadian citizen, you must first become a Canadian taxpayer. A further requirement of the new citizenship application process is to file copies of your Notices of Assessment along with your application.
Inclusive application of knowledge and language
Now all applicants between the ages of 14 and 64 must meet knowledge and language requirements to obtain Citizenship. Previously, these requirements only applied to persons between the ages of 18 and 54, and it was possible to take your citizenship test with the assistance of an interpreter. All applicants for Canadian citizenship will need to pass a test demonstrating their knowledge about Canada. In addition, they will need to meet one of the defined language proficiency criteria. These objective requirements are meant to enhance the efficiency of the citizenship application process.
Providing citizenship to remaining lost Canadians
Previously, many individuals were ineligible for Canadian citizenship due to the effect of Canada's previous archaic citizenship laws which failed to grant citizenship to women or their children in many instances. Changes enacted in 2009 restored citizenship for many of these individuals yet there remained some who were not covered by the new legislation. Bill C-24 restores citizenship to the remaining lost Canadians who were born before 1947 when Canada's first citizenship act was passed, and it further passes citizenship to their first generation of children born abroad.
Foreign criminals not eligible
A person was ineligible to obtain citizenship if they were charged with or convicted of a crime in Canada. The new legislation expands the bar on citizenship to persons with foreign charges or convictions.
Cracking down on fraud
Canada's former citizenship laws had few mechanisms to deter fraud, both of applicants and of those persons assisting applicants in the preparation of their citizenship applications. The penalties for committing fraud in the citizenship application process were limited to a maximum fine of $1000 and/or one year in prison. These new provisions have much greater consequences, increasing the penalties to $100,000 and/or five years in prison. Furthermore, the act now specifies who can assist in the preparation of citizenship applications for a fee by limiting this service to regulated and licensed lawyers or immigration consultants. In addition to the penalties above, professionals who commit fraud in the citizenship process face sanction from their licensing bodies.
Speedier processing times
The new objective requirements of the application process are intended to greatly improve processing times. Current processing standards are in the range of two to three years, and there is a considerable backlog of applications. These new provisions reduce the citizenship application process from three steps to one. The government is projecting that by 2015/2016 processing times for citizenship applications will be less than one year and that the backlog of applicants will have been reduced by 80%.
When are the new laws in effect?
While the new laws have been enacted, they have not yet come into force and will not for approximately one year. It is expected that they will come into effect in the spring or summer of 2015. Applicants can still apply under the previous citizenship criteria until official pronouncement of the date that these new laws are in effect.
Catherine Sas, Q.C. is a Partner in the Immigration group. With over 20 years of experience, she provides a full range of immigration services and is a leading immigration practitioner  (Lexpert, Who’s Who Legal, Best Lawyers in Canada).  Go to www.
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