Citizenship: Current rules and application backlog
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Since 2014, there have been several significant changes to the Citizenship Act and the requirements to becoming a Canadian citizen. Today’s rules look a lot like the previous rules that were in place before 2014.
Current Eligibility Rules
First of all, what are the current citizenship rules? What criteria does a Canadian permanent resident need to meet to become a citizen and get a Canadian passport?
There are five main areas that you will need to meet, as well as some criteria that will inhibit you from applying for citizenship, outlined in the table below.
|Permanent resident status||You must be a Canadian permanent resident|
|Time present in Canada before you file||You must have been physically present in Canada for at least 1095 days during the five years before you sign your application formsnnAny time spent in Canada as a legal temporary resident during the five years before you sign your application can be counted as a half day of physical presence, up to a total of 365 days out of the 1095 day requirement|
|Income tax filing requirements||If you are required to file Canadian taxes under Canada’s Income Tax Act, you must have filed taxes in three tax years within the five years before the date you apply|
|English and/or French language skills||You must be able to show that you are proficient in English and/or French. Anyone between 18-54 needs to demonstrate that they can speak and listen at the required level in order to be eligible|
|Knowledge of Canada’s culture and history||Anyone between 18-54 will have to take a citizenship test to show that they have an understanding of Canadian values, history, symbols, institutions, rights, responsibilities and privileges of citizenship|
|Prohibitions – You cannot apply if||Your permanent resident status is in question or you have not fulfilled conditions of conditional permanent resident statusnnYou are subject to a removal order|
|In some cases, have committed a crime in or outside of Canada (there are rules relating to criminality, citizenship applications and periods when anyone who falls under a specific category of criminality cannot apply)|
We want to be clear that the rules above apply to individuals applying for a grant of citizenship, or who want to become naturalized Canadian citizens. Different rules apply to those who have a right to citizenship and need to obtain proof of their citizenship. Look out for a future blog for details on who can apply for proof of citizenship, or get in touch and ask our firm.
What Changed After 2014?
Before 2014, the rules were very similar to those we have today (which just reverted back in 2017). From 2014 to 2017, the main differences included: applicants needed to prove their intent to live in Canada after becoming citizens, applicants had to have resided in Canada for four of six years before applying (compared to three out of five years currently), applicants needed to show income tax returns for at least four years out of those six years, applicants between 14-64 needed to prove language abilities and take the citizenship test (compared to 18-54 currently) and applicants were not able to count days in Canada as a temporary resident toward their physical residence requirement.
What was the point of all the back and forth? Partly, a change in government saw changes to many immigration policies and laws, including citizenship rules. In 2014, there was a significant backlog of applications in the citizenship processing queue – some applicants had to wait 3 years or more for a decision. With the stricter rules that came into effect in 2014, people had to wait longer to become eligible and there was a dip in the number of people applying. This allowed the government to get some breathing room to work through the backlog of applications.
In 2016, the government increased the filing fees for citizenship applications which seemed to also lower the number of applicants applying that year. There was a 50% decrease in the number of applications received from January to August 2016, compared to the same period in 2015 [Sources: 1 2]. This gave the government another opportunity to work through the backlog and cut down on application processing times.
At the close of 2017, we saw citizenship application processing times down to one year, as published on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) website. We will have to wait and see how the latest rule change will impact processing times and if it will lead to a marked increase.
On a positive note, the rule changes have benefits for those who have been waiting to apply. Permanent residents can apply as soon as they accumulate three years of physical residency within the five years before they submit an application (including any qualifying time as a temporary resident).