There was a spike in applications for Canadian citizenship after the government relaxed the rules around residency requirements and language proficiency this fall.
Figures from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship provided to CBC News show there was an average of 3,653 applications a week in the six months before changes were brought in Oct. 11.
The number shot up to 17,500 applications the week after the new requirements kicked in. There were 12,530 applications submitted the week after that, but data for subsequent weeks is not yet available.
"Reducing the physical presence requirement gives more flexibility to applicants to meet the requirements for citizenship and encourages more immigrants to take the path to citizenship," said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship spokeswoman Nancy Caron. "This helps individuals who have already begun building lives in Canada achieve citizenship faster."
In recent years, there has been an average of 200,000 citizenship applications submitted each year.
Fluctuations in application rates are expected after rule changes, so the department put resources in place to handle "surge capacity" and keep processing times below the 12-month service standard, Caron said.
Andrew Griffith, a former senior immigration official, author and fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said it's too early to tell if the jump in numbers represents a blip or part of a longer-term trend. But he believes an increased rate of citizenship fosters social cohesion and eases community tensions as immigrants have a deeper connection to the country and to Canadian society.
"We want people to become citizens because we believe that's part of the integration journey," he said. "That helps them feel part of Canada and ultimately should improve all the economic, social and political outcomes of the country."
The new rules include:
- The required length of physical presence in Canada is reduced to three out of five years, from four out of six years.
- A portion of time spent in Canada before permanent resident status will count toward residency requirements, which will give credit to temporary workers and students.
- The age range for language and knowledge requirements is reduced to 18 to 54 years old, from the previous requirement of 14 to 64.
But Griffith said high fees remain a barrier for some to apply for citizenship, especially those in the family reunification or refugee categories with stretched finances.
Processing fee hikes
The processing fee jumped to $630 in 2014-2015, which includes a $100 "right of citizenship" fee. That is still much lower than the fees in the U.K., the U.S. and the Netherlands, but is higher than New Zealand, Germany, Australia and France.
Griffith said reducing costs would reflect the fact that promoting citizenship provides not just personal benefit, but a benefit to the greater Canadian society when people can fully participate, including in the political process.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, who marked the changes taking effect at an event in October, said they will make the path to join the "Canadian family" easier and more flexible.
"As a country that's committed to the settlement and integration of newcomers successfully so they can restart their lives and make contributions to our society, we have to ensure the path to citizenship for permanent residents," he said at the time.
People can be deemed ineligible for Canadian citizenship if they have a criminal record or are facing charges in or outside Canada, or if they have had citizenship refused or revoked in past.