The Canadian auditor-general has highlighted serious flaws in the process of acquiring Canadian citizenship, suggesting that immigration authorities routinely failed to adequately detect and prevent fraud. The audit examined more than 100,000 adult citizenship applications submitted during the period July 2014 and October 2015, under the former Conservative government.
Key Failures of Immigration Department:
- Failed to adequately detect and prevent fraud in the Citizenship Program.
- Did not have a systematic method of identifying and documenting fraud risks.
- Important controls designed to help citizenship officers identify and act on fraud risks were not consistently applied.
- Not reliably receiving from its partners—the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canada Border Services Agency—important information on criminal charges of applicants.
The Auditor General, Michael Ferguson, says the stringent checks that are meant to be taking place are being overlooked with citizenship being granted to ineligible applicants.
Verifying that applications are not fraudulent is a key activity when assessing eligibility for citizenship. The impact of fraud in the Citizenship Program is that some individuals receive citizenship and its associated benefits without being entitled to them. Once citizenship has been granted, revoking it—if fraud is discovered later—is time-consuming and costly. The Department reported that in January 2016, it had about 700 revocation cases pending.
The three most common reasons for revoking citizenship are fraud related to residency, identity, or undeclared criminal proceedings. Residency fraud involves pretending to live in Canada to maintain permanent resident status and meet residency requirements for citizenship. In 2012, the Department issued a public warning that nearly 11,000 individuals had been linked to residency fraud investigations.
Unchecked fake travel documents and fraudulent address information are among some of the issues that have been allowed to occur with several instances of citizenship being granted to ineligible applicants.
Immigration minister John McCallum pointed out that only a small number of cases had been highlighted, but that Ferguson’s recommendations would be vigorously implemented.
McCallum also said the inter-departmental information sharing would also be improved by year-end while a move to give officers power to seize fake documents is currently being debated by MPs and is expected to appear in modifications to Bill C-6, An Act to Amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act, which was introduced in Parliament on 25 February 2016.
The RCMP was held to account for failing to inform immigration officials of criminal records involving applicants, with at least two granted citizenship despite pending charges against them.
Ferguson said individuals had been given access ‘to benefits to which they are not entitled’ and said revoking citizenships awarded in error would take ‘significant time and money’.
The Key Recommendations at a Glance:
- Improve the processes to enter and update problem addresses in the Global Case Management System.
- Provide citizenship officers’ authority to seize problem documents, provide officers with more detailed guidance and training, and ensure that officers implement this guidance.
- Revise information sharing procedures with the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency regarding criminal charges against permanent residents and foreign nationals.
- Develop a systematic, evidence-based approach to identifying the risks of fraud as required by its Program Integrity Framework.
- Document risk indicators for residency fraud, and ensure that these indicators are checked consistently to detect and preventing fraud.
- Ensure fraud controls are reviewed regularly and adjusted as required.
The Canadian Citizenship Act was comprehensively overhauled in June 2015 and pending implementation of revisions by the current government, was expected to significantly reduce the number of applications received, previously at about 75 per cent of annual immigration. In 2014, more than 260,000 people became Canadian citizens—more than during any year in Canada’s history, and more than twice the 2013 number.
Among the major changes implemented in 2015 was the requirement for applicants to be a permanent resident of Canada for four of the six years preceding the date of an application. Applicants must also be physically present in the country for at least half of those four years. A stringent burden of proof of intention was imposed under the new act requiring an applicant to prove an intention to reside in Canada as a condition of citizenship. Recently tabled legislation will repeal many provisions of these controversial rules.
Current Canadian citizenship requirements
- Permanent residence status for four of six years preceding application date
- Be aged 18 or older
- Adequate knowledge of Citizenship Language Requirement, if under age 64
- Intention to reside in Canada
- No removal order
- No criminal prohibition
- Pay processing fee of $630 per adult, $200 for child
Aside from the new residency rules, the fee for citizenship was also raised to $630 for an adult and $200 for a child.
Penalties for fraud and misrepresentation include a fine of up to $100,000 and five years in prison.
Applications are submitted to the citizenship office in Sydney, Nova Scotia where they are pre-screened to ensure they are complete and the four year residence rule has been met.
Within roughly one year from submission, applicants are required to attend an interview to demonstrate their knowledge of Canada.
The Benefits of Canadian Citizenship at a Glance
- Few visas needed to visit other countries
- No restrictions on entering or leaving Canada
Access to Canadian rights and privileges
- Eligibility to vote
- Eligibility for consular assistance overseas
- No risk of deportation
- Health care and other social benefits
- Post-secondary education at Canadian rates
- Easier access to certain Canadian jobs
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