Canadian citizenship can be a complex process, especially with the amendments made to the Citizenship Act by the Conservative party during the Harper government. Permanent residents who are eligible to become Canadian citizens need to consider important factors before applying. While permanent residents have almost the same rights as Canadian citizens, such as access to healthcare, education, and social services, except for voting, they may not know that their permanent residency status could be revoked and they could be removed from Canada if they commit and are convicted of certain crimes.
For example, I had a client who was taken to Canada as a child, but when he was in his 40s, his permanent residency was revoked due to his criminal history. He was shocked and did not know that not applying for citizenship at the first opportunity, when he was younger and did not have a criminal record, could have saved his status in Canada. This is why I always advise my clients not to procrastinate with their citizenship applications.
So, when should one apply for Canadian citizenship? If you are a permanent resident, have lived in Canada for at least three years out of the last five years, paid your taxes (if applicable in your situation), have fair knowledge of Canada, and can communicate in English (unless you are 55 years old or older), you are eligible to apply for citizenship. However, the rules are different for minor children under the age of 18, as they can apply for citizenship separately from their parents.
If you are serving a sentence or in detention, or have unresolved criminal charges, you cannot apply for citizenship at this time. It is also important to note that one cannot apply with a formal application for citizenship if less than four years have passed since the date of their conviction. Probation and parole time does not count towards physical presence when counting time when one becomes eligible to apply.
For example, if a person was pronounced guilty by courts on January 1, 2017, and their sentence was probation for 12 months, and an imposition of a fine of $1,000, the day they become eligible to apply for citizenship would be January 2, 2023, because their conditions, probation, and payment of the fine ended on January 1, 2019, and four years must pass since then.
It is common for applicants to be confused about their criminal record. In general, a conviction makes a person ineligible to apply for citizenship for four years from the date of their conviction. However, an absolute or conditional discharge or peace bond is not considered a conviction, so they do not affect an applicant’s eligibility for citizenship.
The trickiest part for most applicants is properly calculating their physical presence in Canada. For those who were absent from Canada because they accompanied their Canadian spouses or worked for a Canadian business overseas, their absence is equivalent to residency in Canada. However, one should be careful to consider whether working for a Canadian business created for the purpose of a convenient way to citizenship would qualify for citizenship when working overseas for that business.
An English language test is required to be granted Canadian citizenship. Even applicants whose native language is English, such as UK citizens and permanent residents of Canada, must provide proof of their English proficiency by taking a test from a designated language institution. However, exemptions exist for those who studied at Canadian colleges or universities, minors, persons of 55 years of age or older, and those with disabilities.
Overall, obtaining Canadian citizenship can be complex, but understanding the eligibility requirements and ensuring that you meet the criteria can help you navigate the process successfully.