As a part of the amendments to the Citizenship Act, the Government of Canada is proposing a number of changes to make the citizenship program more efficient so that qualified applicants can obtain citizenship more quickly.
New decision-making model for citizenship applications
This new model, along with other initiatives contained in this reform, would make the citizenship program more efficient and help reduce processing times. Obtaining citizenship is currently a three-step process that involves duplication of work: Citizenship officers review the files and prepare them for a citizenship judge, who approves or rejects the application, returns it to the officer, who then grants citizenship on behalf of the Minister or recommends an appeal of the judge’s decision.
The proposed amendments include a new single-step model which would streamline the process, enabling citizenship officers to make decisions on citizenship applications. Citizenship judges would remain responsible for the important role of presiding over citizenship ceremonies and administering the oath of citizenship, which is the final step before citizenship is granted.
Increasing Citizenship Fees
As of February 6, 2014, the fee for Canadian citizenship for adult applications for a grant of citizenship, resumptions and adult adoptions increases from $100 to $300. The $100 Right of Citizenship fee for successful applicants remains the same. Fees for applications for a grant or resumption of citizenship for a minor child of a Canadian citizen are exempt from this change. Previously, applicants paid less than 20 percent of the actual cost to the government to process their citizenship applications. This increase brings the fees more in line with the full cost of processing the applications and decreases the burden on Canadian taxpayers.
Over the past six years, Canada has had the highest-ever sustained level of immigration. As resources for processing these applications have not kept pace, backlogs have developed. Raising the fees is a step in the government’s plan to move toward full cost recovery to offset costs.
CIC is seeking stronger authority through these amendments to define what constitutes a complete application and what evidence applicants must provide. The ability to require up-front proof that certain requirements are met and to return incomplete applications will significantly improve efficiency and ensure resources are focused on processing only complete applications.
Under the current Act, the Governor in Council (GIC) may direct the Minister to grant citizenship to any person to alleviate special and unusual hardship or to reward service of an exceptional value to Canada.
Under the proposed changes, decision-making for discretionary grants would move from the GIC to the Minister, streamlining the process. Moving the decision-making authority to the Minister will improve applicant service by eliminating an extra step. Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand already have similar approaches.
Judicial review and appeal process
Proposed changes would give access to higher courts for all applicants. CIC proposes to amend the review process for decisions on citizenship applications. Currently, an appeal of a citizenship judge’s decision can go to the Federal Court (FC) but no higher. Decisions by citizenship officers, who have authority to decide certain cases under the Act, can be judicially reviewed and challenged in a higher court.
The amendments would introduce a uniform review system for all decisions under the Citizenship Act. Judicial review of citizenship decisions would be subject to leave of the Federal Court. The Federal Court decision could then be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal, where the Federal Court certifies a serious question of general importance. The leave and certification filters would prevent spurious litigation. Further appeals are available to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Under the current Act, a citizenship certificate must be issued to each person who is granted citizenship or who requests proof of their citizenship from the Department. The legislative changes would allow for additional ways to verify citizenship in the future, such as by electronic means.
Authority to abandon a citizenship application
These changes would increase processing efficiency and would support ongoing efforts to modernize citizenship processing. The Act does not currently provide the explicit authority to declare an application abandoned in situations where an applicant fails to appear for the citizenship test or an appointment with an officer. CIC proposes to amend the Act to provide clear authority to determine that an application has been abandoned if the applicant fails to comply with a request of information or to attend an interview. The abandonment power would apply to all applications, at any stage after processing has begun, up until the oath is taken.