A drastic decrease in the proportion of immigrants seeking Canadian citizenship, from 79% in 2000 to 26% in 2008, is raising fears that new rules and fees are discouraging immigrants from becoming Canadian citizens.
Analysis of citizenship data has led to former Citizenship Director-General, Andrew Griffith, to warn about the implications of immigrants becoming disenchanted with citizenship rules applicable in Canada. The former Director-General has opined that the drastic fall in citizenship data is a result of the reforms introduced by the Conservative government, including the introduction of a new version of the citizenship test.
The expert is of the opinion that recent changes have made it tougher for immigrants to acquire citizenship, leading to a piquant situation where a large number of immigrants are unable to enjoy the political benefits of Canadian citizenship.
Analyzing data released by the government, Griffith has expressed concern over the significant decline in the ratio of permanent residents seeking Canadian citizenship. As compared to 79% amongst immigrants who arrived in 2000 and 44% amongst immigrants settling in Canada in 2007, only 26% of those who obtained Permanent Residence in 2008 chose to become citizens of the country.
Considering that the process of acquisition of citizenship takes around six years, the 2008 data is, according to Griffith, a clear indicator of the negative impact of the recent reforms introduced in Canada. While acknowledging the link between conversion rate and the duration of stay as permanent resident, Griffith pointed out that an 18% reduction in demand for Canadian citizenship between 2008 and 2007 was an alarming development.
Responding to the criticism, spokesperson of Citizenship and Immigration Canada said non-fulfillment of all the requirements to initiate the citizenship process may be the primary cause behind the variation in data. The spokesperson pointed out that Canada has always enjoyed a high rate of naturalization, at around 86%, as compared to other countries.
The biggest distinction between permanent residents and Canadian citizens is that the former cannot vote or hold a Canadian passport. Further, permanent residents face the risk of revocation of permit, which may result in their removal from the country. Further, citizens are protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Griffith has been vocal in his criticism despite being associated with the government during the development and implementation of the reforms. Acknowledging the rationale behind the changes, Griffith emphasized on the importance of an inclusive instead of exclusion-oriented approach. While stating that citizenship should be restricted only to those who were serious about it, Griffith warned against creation of inadvertent barriers that may affect the relationship of some communities with Canadian society.
Over the past four years, Canada has introduced numerous reforms, including administering of a new citizenship test and an increase in passing scores from 60% to 75%. Applicants are now required to correctly answer 15 out of the 20 multiple choice questions in order to qualify for citizenship. The test is designed to assess immigrants’ knowledge about the history, culture, and values of Canadian society.
Commenting on the impact of the new test on immigrants of different communities, Griffith pointed out that immigrants from the Caribbean region have witnessed a 20% decline in their passing percentage. Immigrants from other communities from South Asia, South Africa, and East Africa witnessed a decline of more than 15%.
Responding to this criticism, the CIC spokesperson pointed out that applicants from all communities undergo the same test. Further, the spokesperson pointed out that an overall pass percentage of 85% is a clear indication that the test is neither too easy not to difficult for immigrants applying for citizenship.
Another obstacle, according to Griffith, is the significant hike in citizenship application fees. In the past, the decision to opt for citizenship was based on the education and income levels of the immigrants. Griffith pointed out that high fees have created an additional hurdle for immigrants on an unsound financial footing.
In 2013, the fee for processing citizenship applications was increased from $100 to 530 over two separate hikes in February and December. Further, immigrants who qualify are required to pay an additional $100 towards the Right of Citizenship fee.
Warning the government of further issues in engaging with immigrants and creating an attachment to the identity of Canada, Griffith pointed out that demand for citizenship has come down despite the fact that the most controversial changes to citizenship rules are yet to come into force.
New residence rules require applicants to be present in Canada for four out of six years as opposed to the earlier requirement of three out of four years. Further, age limit for exemption from language and citizenship tests has been raised from 55 years to 65 years. Both these changes will come into force from June 2015.
The former head sought a fair balance between maintaining a vigorous process for identifying future citizens without making the entire process seem like an unfair and unreasonable farce.