New Brunswick

Immigration experts say record citizenship numbers won't last

The federal government says more than 260,000 people became new Canadians during 2014, more than any other year in Canada's history and more than double last year's number. But immigration experts say the increase won't last because of increased eligibility requirements.

Government says Canada welcomed 260,000 new Canadians in 2014, attributes increase to Citizenship Act changes

Summer Mu moved to Saint John, N.B., more than a decade ago from China, but she says becoming a Canadian citizen last spring made her finally feel like a real Canadian.

"It's like a new life," Mu said.

"Before people refer to you as a Chinese girl … but at that moment when I get my certificate, it's like OK, this is official now, I am a Canadian."

Summer Mu and her daughter Eva at a local hockey game. (Summer Mu)

The federal government says more than 260,000 people became new Canadians in 2014, more than any other year in Canada's history.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander says the total number of new citizens is more than double the number from last year because of changes to the Citizenship Act.

But immigration experts say the increase won't last.

"Even though there's now a great number that's been granted citizenship in this year, as the new law comes in to force and takes effect, fewer people will be eligible," said Warren Creates, an immigration lawyer in Ottawa.

"The eligibility requirements are now going to be very, very high and a significant burden to many people who would qualified (for citizenship)."

Changes 'discourage people from applying'

Ottawa passed changes to the Citizenship Act in June. 

Some of the changes have already come into effect, such as streamlining the application process from three steps to one.

"The government has finally put some resources behind cleaning up a large backlog of citizenship applications that have been taking 40 to 50 months to process," said Lee Cohen, an immigration lawyer in Halifax.

But Cohen says other changes to eligibility requirements under the legislation will "discourage people from applying to become Canadian citizens."

Those changes include residing in Canada for a longer duration of time before becoming a citizen, filing income tax returns during that time and showing intent to remain in Canada after becoming a citizen.

"It's going to take them longer to clock the number of years of physical presence in Canada that the new law will require," Creates said.

The Canadian Bar Association raised concerns earlier this year over changes to the act, saying the proposed bill was "likely unconstitutional."

New Canadian supports changes

Mu says the process of becoming a Canadian citizen was difficult, but she can understand why the process is so rigorous.

She's also familiar with the changes to the Citizenship Act and says she supports the idea of people having to live longer in Canada before becoming a citizen.

"If you want to commit to this country, it's the right thing you have to stay in this country for most of this time to live in this country," Mu said.

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