TORONTO — In the first major overhaul of the Citizenship Act in nearly four decades, the Conservative government vowed Thursday to tighten the rules for those who want to become Canadian, crack down on fraud and strip citizenship from dual nationals who engage in terrorism.
The proposed changes were aimed at strengthening the value of Canadian citizenship and improving the efficiency of the process required to attain it.
“Canadians take as much or more pride in their citizenship than any other country,” said Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander. “The rate of application is likely to go up in spite of the fact that we’re taking certain measures to reinforce the value of citizenship.”
Many of the new measures aim to crack down on so-called Canadians of convenience by making it harder to attain citizenship.
When the new laws come into effect, permanent residents will have to maintain a “physical presence” in Canada for four out of six years before applying for citizenship, compared to the previous requirement of three out of four years.
They will also need to be physically present in Canada for 183 days each year for at least four of those six years, and will have to file Canadian income taxes to be eligible for citizenship.
In a new twist, the government also plans to have prospective citizens officially declare their “intent to reside” in the country.
More applicants will also have to meet language requirements and pass a knowledge test before attaining citizenship, with the government expanding its age range for those requirements to those aged 14-64, compared to the current range of those aged 18-54.
“Our government expects new Canadians to take part in the democratic life, economic potential and rich cultural traditions that are involved in becoming a citizen,” said Alexander.
As eligibility requirements increase, the government said it would simultaneously speed up processing times for citizenship applications by streamlining its decision-making process.
It’s hoped the change will help drastically cut the backlog of citizenship applications, which currently sits at more than 320,000 files with processing times stretching to as much as 36 months. By 2015-16, the government said it hopes to process successful applications in less than a year.
Liberal immigration critic John McCallum said he would be watching closely to see if the government actually cuts processing times as promised.
“Waiting times over the last five years have mushroomed in all cases,” he said. “I hope they get the time down, but I can’t say, given their record, that I have great confidence.”