Archive photo of Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (Photo: IRCC)

With changes to the Citizenship Act finally coming into effect, some permanent residents may be able to apply for Canadian citizenship sooner. Bill C-6 is an act to amend the Citizenship Act and has at last received Royal Assent on June 19, when the first wave of changes went into effect. A second wave of changes is expected to happen in autumn 2017, and a third in early 2018. These changes are expected to give eligible applicants more flexibility and smoothen their journey to citizenship.

Immediate changes include that applicants no longer need to plan on living in Canada after they are granted citizenship, which will allow Canadians greater flexibility to live outside the country for work or personal reasons. As well, the ability to revoke citizenship from dual citizens convicted of crimes against the national interest has been repealed. Dual citizens living in Canada who are convicted of these crimes will face the Canadian justice system, like other Canadian citizens who break the law.

The wave of changes headed into effect later this year reduce the amount of time a permanent resident must physically spend in the country before applying for citizenship. The previous amount of four years out of six spent in the country and has been lowered to three out of five. The age range for applicants to pass the language and knowledge requirements has also been adjusted, changed from between 14 and 64 years to between 18 and 54.

“Canada’s identity has always been shaped by the significant economic, cultural and social contributions of immigrants. Changes to the Citizenship Act will enhance program integrity, while giving more flexibility to eligible applicants to meet the requirements for citizenship so that they can continue building successful lives in Canada,” added Hussen.

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Changes to take effect immediately (June 19, 2017):

Previous act: Citizenship could be revoked from dual citizens convicted of treason, spying and terrorism offences, depending on the sentence received, or who were a part of an armed force of a country or organized group engaged in conflict with Canada.

New act: This provision is repealed. Dual citizens living in Canada who are convicted of these crimes will face the Canadian justice system, like other Canadian citizens who break the law.

Previous act: Applicants were required to intend to continue to live in Canada if granted citizenship.

New act: This provision is repealed. Applicants are no longer required to intend to continue to live in Canada once granted citizenship. This provides more flexibility to Canadians who may need to live outside of Canada for work or personal reasons.

Previous act: The Minister had the discretion to waive certain requirements under subsection 5(1) of the Citizenship Act so a minor could obtain citizenship without a Canadian parent.

New act: Minors can now apply for citizenship without a Canadian parent, as the age requirement for citizenship has been removed under subsection 5(1). A person having custody of the minor or empowered to act on their behalf by court order, written agreement or operation of law, can now apply for citizenship on behalf of the minor, unless that requirement is waived by the Minister.

Previous act: No provision existed to prevent individuals serving a sentence in the community (a conditional sentence order) from being granted citizenship, taking the Oath of Citizenship or counting this time towards meeting the physical presence requirements for citizenship.

New act: Individuals serving a conditional sentence will not be granted citizenship, take the Oath of Citizenship, or be able to count this time towards meeting the physical presence requirements for citizenship.

Previous act: The Minister has the discretion to grant citizenship to a person to alleviate cases of special and unusual hardship, or to reward services of an exceptional value to Canada.

New act: Statelessness has been added as a stand-alone ground that can be considered for a discretionary grant of citizenship.

Previous act: The Department has reasonable measures to accommodate the needs of citizenship applicants. However, there was no explicit reference to accommodate persons with disabilities in the Citizenship Act.

New act: The requirement to take into consideration reasonable measures to accommodate the needs of a citizenship applicant who is a disabled person is now included in the Citizenship Act.

Previous act: The requirement for applicants to maintain the requirements for citizenship from the time they apply for citizenship until taking the Oath of Citizenship only applied to applications received on or after June 11, 2015.

New act: This requirement now also applies to all applications, including those received before June 11, 2015.

Changes expected to take effect fall 2017:

Previous act: Applicants had to be physically present in Canada for four out of six years before applying for citizenship.

New act: Applicants must be physically present in Canada for three out of five years before applying for citizenship.

Previous act: Applicants had to file Canadian income taxes, if required to do so under the Income Tax Act, for four out of six years, matching the physical presence requirement.

New act: Applicants must file Canadian income taxes, if required to do so under the Income Tax Act, for three out of five years, matching the new physical presence requirement.

Previous act: Applicants had to be physically present in Canada for 183 days in four out of the six years preceding their application.

New act: This provision is repealed. Applicants no longer have to meet this requirement.

Previous act: Time spent in Canada prior to becoming a permanent resident did not count towards the physical presence requirement for citizenship.

New act: Applicants may count each day they were physically present in Canada as a temporary resident or protected person before becoming a permanent resident as a half-day toward meeting the physical presence requirement for citizenship, up to a maximum credit of 365 days.

Previous act: Applicants between 14 and 64 years had to meet the language and knowledge requirements for citizenship.

New act: Applicants between 18 and 54 years must meet the language and knowledge requirements for citizenship.

Changes expected to take effect early 2018:

Previous act: The Minister was the decision-maker for most cases of citizenship revocation on the grounds of false representation, fraud, or knowingly concealing material circumstances. The Federal Court was the decision-maker for citizenship revocation cases involving false representation, fraud, or knowingly concealing material circumstances related to security, human or international right violations, and organized criminality.

New act: The Federal Court is the decision-maker in all revocation cases, unless the individual requests that the Minister make the decision.

Previous act: There was no clear authority for Citizenship Officers to seize fraudulent or suspected fraudulent documents provided under the Citizenship Act.

New act: Clear authority for Citizenship Officers to seize fraudulent or suspected fraudulent documents is provided under the Citizenship Act.