Canada is set to increase the time a permanent resident must wait to apply for citizenship, part of an overhaul of immigration rules billed as the biggest in a generation.
Changes to the Citizenship Act are to be tabled on Thursday, with the government signalling it will raise the bar for applications and cut the wait times for those who do apply.
“We want citizens to demonstrate their attachment, their connection, to Canada,” Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander told The Globe and Mail on Wednesday. “We want to ensure we are doing everything possible to prevent fraud and to attack it when it turns up in the system. We are also going to make sure that people are receiving their citizenship in a timely way.”
Canada needs “to speed up processing for citizenship,” he added. Waits have roughly doubled since 2008, and are now 25 to 35 months.
Currently, permanent residents can apply for citizenship when they have spent three of the past four years in Canada. Mr. Alexander signalled that would go up, as his consultations showed “a longer residency requirement is one of the best ways to demonstrate attachment to Canada.”
Dory Jade, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants, said the waiting period will likely be increased by a year – meaning a permanent resident can apply for citizenship after spending four of the past five years in Canada – but the government has not confirmed that. “We believe they want to consult after the bill is tabled,” he said.
An increase in the waiting period would be negligible if government, in turn, cut down processing times, said Reis Pagtakhan, an immigration lawyer with Aikins Law in Winnipeg. “The only way you can do it, really, is increase the resources and put more people on it,” he said.
Another change many expect would give the government power to strip citizenship from some people involved in terrorism or other crimes. Conservative MP Devinder Shory put forward a private member’s bill on the subject and, when it stalled, pledged he “will not let this issue die.”
Mr. Pagtakhan said many people want clarity on how citizenship could be revoked. “I think what people have to be assured of is that there’s a process that is fair,” he said.
Mr. Jade urged the government to include in the bill a list of professionals authorized to represent aspiring citizens, and to avoid tightening rules concerning whether a permanent resident must be continually in the country to be considered to be living here. Doing so could scare off business people who travel for work, he said.
“Every time there’s a change like this, we have to watch it carefully,” Mr. Jade added.
NDP immigration critic Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe said the biggest issue is waits. “That’s no secret, and I hope the Conservatives will take the opportunity to address that problem,” she said.
Liberal immigration critic John McCallum hoped waits would be reduced without tighter eligibility rules. “That’s one way to deal with a backlog – you just say you’re no longer eligible, or you’re no longer allowed to apply. That would be the bad way to fix it,” he said.
Mr. Alexander acknowledged waits have grown, but gave no specific indication of what the government will do. “Citizenship is more popular than ever. Demand for it has grown. And our immigration numbers have been stronger than ever. So we have to adapt to meet those demands,” he told The Globe.
Mr. Alexander is scheduled to unveil the bill in Toronto on Thursday, shortly after it is tabled in Parliament.