Immigrants to Canada will have to spend more time in the country, and learn to speak one of the two official languages before they can obtain citizenship as part of a proposed sweeping reform of the country’s immigration laws.
Stating that Canadian “citizenship is a privilege not a right”, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander introduced the government’s long-awaited immigration reform package that is designed to crack down on potential fraud, and requires longer residency in the country before applying for citizenship.
Alexander said the wide-ranging changes to Canada’s immigration laws are “the first comprehensive reforms to the Citizenship Act since 1977.”
Highlights of the proposed Strengthening Canadian Immigration Act include:
- Requiring that immigrants spend four out of the prior six years residing in Canada before applying for citizenship, with no credit for prior years spent in the country (the previous requirement was three out of the previous four years). Applicants will also need to be physically in the country for at least 183 days per year, for four of those six years.
- Applicants aged 14-64 will have to meet language requirements of either English or French (Canada’s official languages). The prior law has no language requirement.
- Extends the ban on acquiring citizenship to individuals with foreign criminal charges and convictions. The prior to law only barred individuals from obtaining Canadian citizenship if they had prior domestic criminal charges and convictions.
- An increase in penalties for fraudulent applications in addition to greater authority to refuse applicants for fraud. Under the new law fines related to fraudulent citizenship applications jump from $1,000 and/or one year in prison, to $100,000 and/or five years in prison.
- Requires adult citizenship applicants to file Canadian income taxes in order to be eligible for citizenship. Under the previous law, no such requirement existed.
- Puts in place an authority for revocation of Canadian citizens who hold dual citizenship and are members of an armed forces or armed group that is in conflict with Canada, as well as the ability to revoke or deny Canadian citizenship to those actively involved in terrorism or related offenses.
- Creation of a new fast-track mechanism for Canadian citizenship for permanent residents serving with the Canadian Armed Forces
While Canada’s Opposition Parties have expressed some doubts about aspects of the proposed new immigration law, the Conservative government’s parliamentary majority in the House of Commons makes passage of the bill seem quite likely.