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High fees blamed for sharp decrease in Canadian citizenship applications

by Nicolas Keung (feat. Andrew Griffith)

The Star
February 24, 2017

The number of immigrants applying for citizenship has plunged by a whopping 50 per cent at the same time as Ottawa has stripped a record number of Canadians of their citizenship.

According to the latest data from the Immigration Department, only 56,446 new citizenship applications were received in the first nine months of last year, a sharp decline from the 111,993 during the same period in 2015.

The number of new citizens approved also dropped by 48 per cent from 198,119 to 111,435 over the same period, said Andrew Griffith, a retired director general of the department who obtained the data.

While the tightened language proficiency and longer residency requirements have contributed to the decline, the steep increase in citizenship application fees under the former Conservative government is a key factor, Griffith said.

The processing fee was raised from $100 to $300 in February 2015 and again to $530 later that year, with an additional $100 right-of-citizenship fee required once the application is approved. Historically, citizenship applications have averaged close to 200,000 per year.

“The fee hike is a huge part. When you increase the price, you are not going to be able to afford it,” noted Griffith, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “The fee is a significant barrier. If you are a professional, you can pay it with no problem. But if you are low-income, it becomes a burden.”

The federal Liberals have tabled Bill C-6 to amend the Citizenship Act, which would make citizenship less restrictive by reducing the residency requirement to three out of four years from four out of six and limiting the language and knowledge tests to applicants aged 18-54, instead of 14-64. However, there is no mention of a fee reduction in the bill.

Toronto lawyer Avvy Go, who spoke at Senate hearings into the bill, said the fees are a problem for the low-income households she serves at the Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic.

The legal clinic organized a number of workshops in 2015 to urge eligible immigrants to apply for citizenship before the changes by the Tory government came into effect. Many attendees to the workshops said they were not able to afford the fees, Go told the Star.

“When you look at who the poor are, they are people from racialized communities, women and the disabled, who are bearing the consequences. You are going to further disenfranchise the vulnerable,” said Go.

“Many of my clients work long hours in restaurants and are paid minimum wages. They have to choose between putting food on the table and applying for citizenship. Many have no choice but choose to put food on the table first.”

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data also showed 236 Canadians were stripped of their citizenship since the Liberal government came into power in November 2015 — more than doubling the 10-year total of 115 under the Conservative government.

The department said the increase of revocations was the result of legislation introduced by the Conservatives in May 2015 that transferred the power to revoke a person’s citizenship from the Governor in Council (essentially the Governor General acting on the advice of cabinet) to the immigration minister, who delegated the authority to department staff.

“The process was designed to enable (the Immigration Department) to make decisions on the vast majority of revocation cases in a more efficient and timely manner,” said immigration spokesperson Nancy Caron.

“A person whose citizenship is revoked would revert to being a permanent resident or a foreign national, depending on where in the process the fraud occurred.”

While Canadians who obtained their citizenship by fraud should be stripped of their citizenship, Go said the system lacks transparency and oversight.

“Under the current system, there are no hearings, no judicial reviews. The immigration minister and his delegates have the final say, and you can’t appeal the decision,” said Go. “I hope the Senate will amend Bill C-6 to safeguard the procedural fairness for Canadians.”


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