The percentage of immigrants who obtain Canadian citizenship has fallen sharply from 79% to 26%, according to a study of immigrants who arrived between 2000 and 2008.
The fall is due to new rules and fees that have made it more difficult for people to become Canadian, says former citizenship director general Andrew Griffith.
Griffith’s report, which analyzes the effect of citizenship reforms, is based on official government data and shows that the proportion of Canada’s permanent residents who eventually acquire citizenship has been declining since 2000, with sharp drops recorded in the past few years. Figures for 2008 show that only 26% of permanent residents who settled in Canada that year have become Canadian citizens, compared to 44% in 2007 and 79% in 2000.
Griffith’s study also shows that the number of citizenship applications from visible minorities had been adversely affected since the launch of the new version of Canadian citizenship test. “In the past, citizenship was viewed as a stepping stone to immigrant integration, and it should be done earlier on,” says Griffith. “These changes have made it harder and prohibitive for some to acquire citizenship, turning Canada into a country where an increasing percentage of immigrants are likely to remain non-citizens, without the ability to engage in the Canadian political process.”
According to Griffith, government data shows that it takes immigrants an average of six years to obtain Canadian citizenship. And the numbers of 2008 show only the first wave of effects caused by the citizenship reforms, meaning further declines are to be expected.
“The permanent-resident-to-citizen conversion rate does generally rise the longer immigrants have been in Canada. But an 18% decrease between the 2008 and 2007 cohorts is alarming,” says Griffith.
However, Citizenship and Immigration Canada does not agree with Griffith’s analysis. Johanne Nadeau, spokesperson for CIC, says that Griffith might have misinterpreted the data as “he is not taking into account those (permanent residents) who are not yet eligible to become citizens because they haven’t met all of the requirements needed to begin the citizenship process.”
Nadeau says that Canada has one of the highest naturalization rates globally and “86% of eligible permanent residents for Canadian citizenship decide to acquire it”, mainly because of the benefits of Canadian citizenship over permanent residency, which includes the right to vote, and possession of Canadian passports.
The citizenship reforms introduced since 2010 include a new tougher citizenship test designed to evaluate an applicant’s knowledge of Canada’s culture, history, and values. The passing score for this test has also been increased from 60% to 75%.
Additionally, the increase in citizenship fees has added a further obstacle for those seeking citizenship. Last year the fee was increased from $100 per adult to $300 in February, and again to $530 in December.
Griffith says he understands the rationale behind these government changes but believes that steps should be taken to promote inclusion rather than exclusion. “We need to make sure those who apply for citizenship take it seriously, but we don’t want to inadvertently create excessive barriers and shift the relationship of some of the communities with the country.”
Further controversial changes are set to come into force later this year that will make it harder to obtain citizenship. One such change is the requirement for citizenship applicants to have been present in Canada for four out of the previous six years, rather than the current requirement of three out of the previous four years.