Canada to make immigrants wait four years for citizenship

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Canada's immigration minister, Chris Alexander, has introduced legislation in the Canadian parliament that would increase the required residency period before immigrants could apply for citizenship to four years from the current three years.

Mr Alexander announced the bill at a press conference at Fort York in Toronto, the site of a historic battle between Canada and the United States in 1812. He said that the bill would 'increase, reinforce the value of Canadian citizenship which we all sense but which needs to be renewed in every generation'.

The bill would also quadruple the cost of a Canadian citizenship application from $75 to $300 and massively increase the maximum penalty for 'residency fraud' from $1,000 to $100,000.

Residency fraud

Residency fraud is committed when a foreign national creates falsified evidence that he is resident in Canada while, in fact, continuing to live elsewhere. In order to qualify for citizenship, a foreign national with permanent resident status must currently be able to show that he or she has resided in Canada for three years (1,095 days) in the last four years.

Canadian immigration has been concerned that some people with permanent residence visas, particularly from the Middle East, continued to live in their home countries and paid agents to create bogus records showing them to be resident in Canada.

In 2012, former immigration minister Jason Kenney announced that over 3,000 people would have their Canadian citizenship revoked when it became clear that when applying for citizenship they had faked evidence to show that they were spending more time in Canada than was actually the case.

Falsified documentation

Mr Kenney said that some Canadian immigration consultants were providing falsified documentation showing receipts for living expenses, household bills and so forth to be used in citizenship applications.

The bill would also make Canadian language and citizenship tests considerably harder and extend the requirement to take a language test to all applicants up to the age of 64. Currently, those over 54 are exempt.

Mr Alexander said that the measures would 'strengthen the value of citizenship' and added that Canadian citizenship is 'our most precious commodity'.

'A weighty privilege that bestows both duties and rights'

He said 'We want new citizens to embrace our rich culture and values and feel compelled to remain active members of Canadian society. Canadian citizenship is uniquely valuable in the world, a weighty privilege that bestows both duties and rights, opportunities and responsibilities'.

Canada's main opposition party, the New Democratic Party has said that the measures 'will require serious study' before they support them and expressed a concern that the government might be 'playing politics' with the issue.

Canada's other opposition party; the Liberals, welcomed the increased residency requirement.

Citizen of convenience

John McCallum of the Liberal Party said 'I do agree with the principle that when a person becomes a citizen of Canada, that person should be a real citizen and not a citizen of convenience'.

The bill will also include measures to extend Canadian citizenship to the 'Lost Canadians' who despite having lived in Canada throughout most of their lives and having been born to Canadian parents, do not have citizenship because they were born overseas.

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