Changes will make it harder to become a Canadian citizen

The federal government is bringing in new rules that will make it harder to get and keep Canadian citizenship.

This month's On the Radar talks about why permanent residents may want to apply for citizenship now.

When will the rules change?

The government has not officially given a date for all of the changes. But most people expect them to happen by June 2015.

Will the changes affect everyone who applies?

Yes. But the changes will have the greatest impact on people:
  • 55 to 64 years old
  • 14 to 17 years old

Why become a Canadian citizen?

Canadian citizens have rights that permanent residents do not have. For example, citizens have better protection against losing their status and being forced to leave Canada.

Permanent residents can be deported no matter how long they have lived here.

Who can apply for citizenship?

Under the current rules, a permanent resident who has lived in Canada for at least 3 years may be able to apply. They must also meet other requirements.

What will change under the new rules?

Below are some of the important changes, with a look at what is happening now and what will happen after the rules change.

Knowledge of English or French and of Canada

Now: Only applicants 18 to 54 years old have to show that they have what the government calls "adequate knowledge" of English or French and of Canada.

After: Applicants 14 to 64 years old will have to meet these requirements.

Time living in Canada

Now: A permanent resident can apply after living in Canada for 3 out of the last 4 years. They may be able to include time that they lived here before becoming a permanent resident.

And time someone spent outside Canada may also count if Canada is their permanent home.

After: To apply, someone must have lived in Canada as a permanent resident for:
  • at least 4 out of the last 6 years, and
  • at least 183 days each year for at least 4 out of the last 6 years.
And only time in Canada will count as living in Canada.

Intention to live in Canada

Now: Someone applying for citizenship does not have to plan to live in Canada. And if they become a Canadian citizen before the rules change, they cannot lose their citizenship only because they live somewhere else in the future.

After: An applicant must intend to continue living in Canada. If they leave Canada and live somewhere else, the government may be able to take away their Canadian citizenship.

How should someone decide whether to apply now?

It can be important to get legal advice before applying for citizenship.

People should get legal advice about:
  • what the rules are to qualify for Canadian citizenship
  • what documents they need to apply
  • when to apply
  • what risks they might face if they apply

Why would applying for citizenship put someone at risk?

Citizenship and Immigration Canada looks at applications to see if there might be a reason to take someone's permanent resident status away.

For example, applying for citizenship can put a refugee's status in Canada at risk if they have:
  • travelled to their country of nationality, which is the country they were a citizen of when they fled
  • applied for or renewed a passport issued by that country

Getting legal help

For legal advice about becoming a Canadian citizen, people can contact a community legal clinic or a lawyer.

Community legal clinics give free legal advice to people with low incomes, but not all clinics deal with immigration issues.

To find the clinic nearest you, visit the Legal Aid Ontario website.
This email alert gives general legal information. It is not a substitute for getting legal advice about a particular situation.
November 2014
On the Radar is a monthly email alert from CLEO that highlights timely legal information.

Other related resources

Citizenship – What you need to know (webinar by Inter-Clinic Immigration Working Group)
Citizenship (Canadian Council for Refugees)
Residents urged to apply for Canadian citizenship to avoid hurdles on horizon (Toronto Star)
Canadian citizenship (Citizenship and Immigration Canada)
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