Ottawa

Number of immigrants becoming Canadian citizens drops

Fewer Canadian immigrants became citizens in 2016 than 1996, according to a new study released by Statistics Canada this week.

Financial costs, complex study guide could be factors

A young new Canadian holds a flag as she takes part in a citizenship ceremony on Parliament Hill in April 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Fewer Canadian immigrants became citizens in 2016 than 1996, according to a new study released by Statistics Canada this week, though more recent developments  may be addressing some of the issues at play.

The citizenship rate among recent immigrants was just over 75 per cent in 1996, but declined to 60 per cent in 2016.

"There are a number of factors that created the decline," said Andrew Griffith, a former director-general with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, on CBC Radio's All in a Day Thursday.

Griffith said that part of the reason may be financial. 

The processing fee for citizenship used to be $200, but the amount was increased to $630 under the previous Conservative government, Griffith said.

"If you look at a family of four, you're talking about $1,500 or so," he said. "That's a significant burden."

The Liberals were re-elected to a minority government last month with a platform that included eliminating this application fee.

There was a spike in citizenship applications late in 2017, after the period covered by the study, when the federal government relaxed some of the residency and language rules.

Complicated language

Another issue, according to Griffith, is that more complex language is used in the new citizenship study guide.

In order to obtain citizenship, people must take a written test on Canada and the government.

The guide was revised about a decade ago, and Griffith said it includes more sophisticated language.

As a result, people with lower levels of education can have a harder time.

"You're creating an additional barrier that doesn't need to be there," he said. 

He added that it's possible to simplify the language in the study guide without simplifying the content. 

Big decline in East Asian immigrants

The study also revealed the decline in citizenship rates was most pronounced among East Asian immigrants.

In 1996 the citizenship rate among East Asian immigrants was at 83 per cent, but that was down to 45 per cent by 2016. 

Chinese immigrants drove the majority of this decline, according to Statistics Canada, which may demonstrate their changing preference for keeping Chinese citizenship while the country experiences significant economic growth. 

In comparison, the rate among immigrants from western Europe, South America and the United States remained stable or slightly declined. 

The percentage of recent immigrants obtaining Canadian citizenship is seeing a noticeable decline especially among those with lower family incomes, levels of education, and knowledge of English or French. In this hour...a former director with Citizenship and Immigration tells us why this is the case. 10:23

Being a citizen gives new Canadians the ability to enter or leave Canada freely, the right to a Canadian passport, as well as the right to vote in Canadian elections.

But Griffith also emphasized how the broader Canadian public benefits from having new citizens. 

"Immigrants who choose to become Canadians tend to be more involved in Canadian society, more engaged in Canadian society, contribute more to Canadian society," he said.

"So there's a mix of that private benefit to the individual and public benefits to society."

With files from CBC Radio's All In A Day

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