The government in Ottawa has unveiled sweeping reforms demanding that immigrants spend more time in Canada as permanent residents, file income tax returns and sign an undertaking to continue living in the country if they want to become citizens.
The radical redrawing of the Citizenship Act, announced on Thursday, would lengthen the period of residency required of applicants from three years to four. Language proficiency requirements would be extended to children as young as 14 and adults as old as 64.
China is the biggest single source of Canada’s permanent residents.
The changes represent a major crackdown on so-called “passports of convenience”.
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 engaged in deceitful applications. “We know where the high risk of residency fraud is,” he said at a press conference in Toronto.
Processing of citizenship applications would hopefully be shortened to one year as a result of the new rules, said Alexander, despite the longer qualification times.
The new rules provide a strict definition of what constitutes “residence”. Applicants must have spent 1,460 days physically present in Canada in a six year period. The must also have been physically present for at least 183 days per year in four of the six years.
The government department Citizenship and Immigration Canada said in a briefing document that the bill will “require citizenship applicants to declare their intention to reside in Canada before citizenship is granted”. Fraudulent applications may be punished by five years’ jail.
A continued-residency undertaking would deter the phenomenon of return migration by newly-approved Canadians. There are estimated to be 295,000 Canadian citizens in Hong Kong, most of them returnees.
The new rules require applicants to file Canadian tax returns, and the requirement for proficiency in either English or French is being extended; it currently only applies to applicants aged 18 to 54.
Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said the reforms were a potential “gamechanger” for the entire system of wealth-based Chinese migration to Canada.
Alexander said the new rules will not affect applications lodged before the new rules come into force, at an unknown date later this year. Nor will they affect current citizens.