Harper’s Tougher Canadian Citizenship Requirements Saw Naturalization Rate Drop

Tightening of Canadian citizenshi prequirements under the previous Conservative government saw a smaller percentage of immigrants become citizens, new figures show.

Canadian census data reveals the rate of naturalization fell from 85.6 per cent to 82.7 per cent between 2011 and 2016, as people found it harder to become Canadian citizens.

Under previous Prime Minister Stephen Harper, major changes made included:

  • Increasing the time permanent residents needed to be physically present in Canada to qualify for citizenship;
  • Widening the age range for language and knowledge tests;
  • Raising the citizenship application fee.

The current Liberal government revoked the changes over the past six months following the passing of Bill C-6, but not before they had seriously impacted the number of people becoming Canadian citizens.

Analysis by Andrew Griffith of the Policy Options public forum reveals a stark contrast between the traditional rate of naturalization and the rate between 2011 and 2016.

His article, titled ‘What the census tells us about citizenship’, states that 90 per cent of immigrants arriving in Canada pre-1981 were citizens in 2016. In the 2011 census, 77.2 per cent of immigrants in the country for between five and 10 years had become citizens. But that rate fell to 68.5 per cent according to 2016 census data.

“The path that leads newcomers to ultimately attain Canadian citizenship is eroding, a trend that the government has yet to acknowledge and address,” Griffith wrote.

He added: “The reversal of some Harper-era policy and operational changes will partially slow this trend, but the government needs to take further steps. The acquisition of citizenship brings benefits to both individuals and to Canadian society.”

The further steps Griffith wants to see taken centre around the citizenship fee, which was raised from $100 to $530 under Harper, and has so far not been changed by Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.

Griffith believes the citizenship fee hike is the single biggest barrier for immigrants considering becoming citizens.

Almost all of the other Harper changes have now been revoked. The latest changes to the Citizenship Act came into effect in February.

Under the changes, all citizenship revocation decisions become the responsibility of the Federal Court, unless an individual chooses to have the decision made by the immigration minister.

A new step has also been added to revocation process, whereby Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will review cases before they are referred to the Federal Court and decide whether to continue with proceedings.

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