Canada has unveiled sweeping reforms that would require immigrants spend more time as permanent residents, file tax returns and sign an undertaking to continue living in the country if they want to become citizens.
The proposed redrawing of the Citizenship Act, unveiled on Thursday, would lengthen the period of residency required from three years to four years.
Language proficiency requirements would be extended to children as young as 14 and adults as old as 64, and penalties for fraudulent applications toughened.
China is the biggest single source of applications for Canadian permanent residency and among those who may be affected by the changes are the 110,813 mainland Chinese and 3,305 Hongkongers granted permanent residency between 2010 and the middle of last year.
An investigation by the South China Morning Post yesterday revealed tens of thousands of mainland Chinese millionaires had swamped Canada's Hong Kong consulate with applications for its investor immigrant programme, forcing it to be shelved in 2012. It had been the favourite pathway for rich Chinese to obtain foreign citizenship.
The Post reported last year that at least 65,000 Hong Kong-born Canadians had returned to the city since 1996, a process that was not officially acknowledged because neither China nor Hong Kong recognise dual citizenship.
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said the government was simply asking those applying for citizenship to promise to live in Canada and it would pursue those who lodged deceitful applications. "We know where the high risk of residency fraud is and we are going to focus our investigative resources there," he said.
The changes would affect only applications lodged after the rules were enforced later this year. The ruling Conservative Party enjoys a strong parliamentary majority, making the bill's passage likely.
The new rules also give a stricter definition of what constitutes "residence". Applicants must have spent 1,460 days in Canada over six years. They must also have been there for at least 183 days per year in four of the six years. Time spent in Canada before becoming permanent residents will no longer be counted.
"The only way to get to know this country is by being here and experiencing it," Alexander said.
A continued residency undertaking would deter "reverse migration" by newly minted Canadians, a process particularly extensive in the Chinese community. There are about 295,000 Canadian citizens in Hong Kong, many of them returnees.
Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said the reforms were a potential "game changer" for wealth-based Chinese migration to Canada.