Above: The Canadian government unveiled new legislation to streamline the processing of immigration claims, but at what cost? Vassy Kapelos explains.
TORONTO – The Conservative government proposed sweeping changes to the Citizenship Act Thursday that included increasing eligibility requirements for immigrants who want to become Canadians and stripping citizenship from terrorists and those who take up arms against Canada.
The changes are aimed at strengthening the value of Canadian citizenship and increasing the efficiency of the process required to attain it.
“Canadians understand that citizenship should not be simply a passport of convenience,” said Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander. “Citizenship is a pledge of mutual responsibility and a shared commitment to values rooted in our history.”
The government is calling the proposed overhaul the first comprehensive reform to the Citizenship Act since 1977.
Under new legislation, permanent residents will have to have a “physical presence” in Canada for four years out of six years before applying for citizenship, compared to the previous requirement of three out of four years.
They will also need to be physically present in Canada for 183 days each year for at least four of those six years and will have to file Canadian income taxes to be eligible for citizenship.
“Our government expects new Canadians to take part in the democratic life, economic potential and rich cultural traditions that are involved in becoming a citizen,” said Alexander.
WATCH: Opposition MP’s take issue with reforms to the Citizenship Act during Question Period in the House of Commons (Feb 6)
While the residency requirements have increased, the government says its new laws will speed up processing times for citizenship applications. It plans to reduce its current decision-making process from three steps to one.
The current backlog sits at more than 320,000 citizenship applications, with processing times stretching to as much as 36 months. The government hopes its changes will mean that by 2015-16, successful applicants get their citizenship in less than a year.
More applicants will also have to meet language requirements and pass a knowledge test to attain citizenship, with the government expanding its age range for those requirements to those aged 14-64, compared to the current range of those aged 18-54.
The revamped laws would also mean citizenship can be revoked from dual nationals who are members of an armed force or groups engaged in armed conflict with Canada, and from those convicted of terrorism, high treason or spying.
The legislation will also deny citizenship to permanent residents who are involved in those activities.
Officials say those provisions will likely only apply to exceptional cases.
The new legislation would also bar people with foreign criminal charges and convictions from getting citizenship. Current laws only bar citizenship for those with certain domestic criminal charges and convictions.
In another change, permanent residents who are members of the Canadian Armed Forces will have a fast track to citizenship.
Meanwhile, the government plans to extend citizenship to the so-called “lost Canadians” who had been wrongfully denied it in the past.
The group of individuals who fell through the cracks in existing legislation include certain children of war brides born before 1947 when Canada had no citizenship laws of its own.
The bill detailing the Citizenship Act revamp was introduced in Parliament Thursday morning.
© The Canadian Press, 2014