By Pradip Rodrigues
So last week Canada’s immigration minister announced changes to citizenship requirements which now makes it easier than ever for foreign students, refugees and permanent immigrants to become permanent residents.
Making it easier meant eliminating ‘barriers’ that were introduced by the previous conservative government to ensure people hoping to become Canadian citizens made the effort to educate themselves about their adopted country and to make it harder for those simply seeking Canadian citizenship for all its advantages without really living here long-term.
So going forward applicants over 55 years of age are once again exempt from the language and knowledge tests for citizenship under the amended citizenship regulations.
More concerning is the easing of the residency requirement for citizenship — requiring applicants to be in Canada for four years out of six — and stipulated that applicants between the ages of 14 and 64 must pass language and citizenship knowledge tests. To me that should not be an issue for someone who has come here to make this country their home. And if there are reasons that require them to be away for an extended period that too is okay, as long as they understand that it could delay their citizenship.
Foreign students and refugees who’ve been in the country prior to filing for citizenship will henceforth be given one year’s credit toward fulfilling their residency requirements.
I don’t know if simplifying and making it easier to become a Canadian citizen is a good thing for the country. I think the so-called barriers that were dismantled forced those seeking citizenship to put in more effort into the process of learning English and spending more time in Canada before being able to qualify for citizenship. I met a newly minted Canadian a while ago who felt so accomplished after overcoming the so-called hurdles. Because of the effort he and his wife had to put in to get citizenship made them cherish it even more.
These ‘barriers’ were removed because it seemed to have resulted in fewer permanent residents becoming citizens. The government worried that there were too many permanent residents who were not engaged in the social and political process in Canada. Somehow making them citizenship would magically they would be more active in their communities.
I however think that easing the pathway to citizenship in order to mint new Canadians is almost like a store offering deep discounts to entice more customers to buy a slow moving item. In a way deep discounts may ensure more sales but it ends up devaluing the product. In this case, it is Canadian citizenship. It doesn’t affect white Canadians who are treated like real Canadians while traveling abroad, it affects the naturalized Canadians of color who are seen as ‘fake’ and second-class citizens when abroad. It is sad but true.
When you have foreign students who in addition to getting their college diplomas or degrees from some unknown private college flaunt their Canadian passports on their visits to their countries of origin, it takes away from its value.
Making it easier to become Canadian does little to ensure they participate and make efforts to integrate into Canadian society rather than simply stick within their own ethnic group.
If any government was honestly committed to ensuring that, they would make English or French proficiency even harder. Some of the other requirements would include volunteering or joining groups that are mainstream.
It would be really interesting to know just how many new Canadians decide to seek employment out of Canada for more than three years while his or her family lived here and pay little or no taxes.
Many of us would like to know the number of new “Canadians” live abroad but come back only to access our healthcare and other facilities.
How many new Canadians from refugee backgrounds who feared persecution or death if they were ever sent back to their countries bravely return mere days after receiving Canadian citizenship. I know some who’ve not only returned to countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India to visit family but also invest in land.
The fact that most important immigration-related government announcements are made in places like Brampton and not Ottawa by all governments in power shows that immigrants are being wooed for their votes and governments hope that the newly minted Canadians who would find it harder to qualify for citizenship under more stringent rules would vote in a political party that made it possible.
From what I see happening around me is that many new immigrants are only very actively engaged politically when it comes to matters concerning sponsorship and immigration.