Citizenship Act will create two classes of Canadians

posted on May 21, 2014

By Michael Adams, Audrey MaCklin and Ratna Omidvar, the Globe and Mail | Link to Article

By Michael Adams, Audrey MaCklin and Ratna Omidvar, the Globe and Mail | Link to Article

Michael Adams is president of the Environics Institute; Audrey Macklin is a professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto; Ratna Omidvar is president of the Maytree Foundation.

The federal government argues that its proposed new Citizenship Act will “protect the value of citizenship.” We are concerned that it may have the opposite effect: making Canadian citizenship harder to get and easier to lose, and creating second-class citizens along the way.

The government is introducing stricter residency requirements, increasing the required period of permanent residency to four years from three. At first glance, this may not seem like a major change. But this is in addition to processing delays that stretch from one to three years.

Consider this scenario: A foreign student completes her master’s degree here in three years. She wants to stay in Canada – and is just the kind of highly skilled immigrant Canada needs – but she’s not eligible to apply for permanent residence yet. First, she must find suitable employment and work for a year. Having done so, she applies for permanent resident status, which takes another year to process. She has now been in Canada for five years, but none of it counts toward the four-year permanent residency requirement. Under the old rules, she would have received partial credit for years lived in Canada as a temporary resident. No more.

She is now a permanent resident, just at the starting line of the four years she must spend in Canada to apply for citizenship. Her Canadian employer asks her to work in one of its overseas offices (perhaps to take advantage of her language skills and cultural knowledge). But under the new rules any time spent outside Canada will further delay her eligibility for citizenship and could even jeopardize her permanent residence. She refuses the career opportunity.

Four years later, she has fulfilled her permant residence requirement and applies for citizenship. Based on existing delays (the result of staff shortages, not law), she will have to wait about two years before her application is processed. She’s been here for eleven years, six of them as a permanent resident. Only now can she call herself “Canadian” and vote for the representatives that collect her taxes and make decisions that affect her life.

Too bad for her? Maybe. But too bad for Canada as well: citizenship tends to promote engagement and contribution. Research indicates that the sooner people get citizenship, the sooner and more fully they invest themselves in their new society.

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