Trudeau government’s ‘total reversal’ of Tory policy also slashes residency requirements and gives credit for time spent as visitors or students.
When Canada’s new Liberal government last week unveiled its sweeping rollback of the ousted Conservatives’ citizenship crackdown, much of the focus was on the decision to remove terrorism as grounds for revoking dual citizenship.
But the amendments also carry huge implications for anyone who simply heads back to their country of origin after obtaining a Canadian passport. This modern phenomenon of reverse migration is one that has been thoroughly embraced by tens of thousands Hong Kong and mainland Chinese immigrants alike, to varying degrees of legality.
The changes, for the most part, put things back the way they were in 2014.
The proposals also shorten the period of physical presence required of new citizens to three years (1,095 days) out of the previous five, compared to four years out of six under the Tories; allow periods of non-permanent presence in Canada – for instance, time spent as a student, temporary worker or even a visitor – to be credited among those three years (albeit up to a maximum of one years’ credit, with each full day of non-permanent residency counting as half a day); and shrink the age band for applicants who must pass language tests, from 18-54, compared to 14-64 previously.
Canadian income-tax-filing requirements have been retained, although reduced to three years out of the five years prior to seeking citizenship, in keeping with the new residency rule. In a further supplemental move required as a result of the new non-permanent-resident time credit, a rule requiring 183 days of presence in Canada in four out of six years is also scrapped.
“The government is keeping its commitment to repeal certain provisions of the Citizenship Act, including those that led to different treatment for dual citizens. Canadian citizens are equal under the law. Whether they were born in Canada or were naturalised in Canada or hold a dual citizenship,” Immigration Minister John McCallum said in a statement.
Removing the intent-to-reside-in-Canada rule represents a major switch in thinking, although actual enforcement of rules about intent has been patchy at best. For instance, Quebec’s Immigrant Investor Programme for millionaire permanent residents requires a stated intent to live in the French-speaking province – but that hasn’t stopped about 90 per cent of QIIP applicants from moving elsewhere in Canada (mainly Vancouver). It’s hard to prove false intent at the time a residency statement is made, and the Canadian Charter guarantees freedom of movement.
Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said he supported the changes, which represented “a total reversal” from the approach of the Tories, under whom “citizenship was harder to obtain and easier to lose; now it’s easier to obtain and much harder to lose”.
The removal of the intent-to-reside provision was “hands down, slam-dunk” the most significant change, Kurland said. He said the previous “exposure to revocation” of citizenship under the intent rule would have “hung over [new citizens’] heads, forever”.
“It’s the difference between sleeping soundly … [versus] knowing that at some day in the future, over decades to come, the state may intrude on your life and decide that you did not have the intent to be Canadian,” he said.
Kurland had lobbied the previous Tory government of prime minister Stephen Harper to introduce the pre-citizenship tax-filing requirement, and he said he was happy to see it retained under the Liberals’ Justin Trudeau as a “non-partisan” policy element.
There are estimated to be almost 300,000 existing Canadian citizens in Hong Kong, most of them returnee immigrants whose decision to head back to the SAR is perfectly legal and will remain so under the new rules.
Yet illegally evading Canada’s pre-citizenship residency requirements has become an industry that caters to some sectors of the wealthy Chinese community. The biggest immigration fraud in Canadian history involved Xun “Sunny” Wang, a Vancouver-area immigration consultant who specialised in helping rich Chinese fake their presence in Canada as permanent residents, in order to later obtain citizenship. Wang’s clients were actually living and working China, but had him doctor their passports and forge various documents to create the illusion that they were in Canada instead. Jailed in October for seven years, Wang helped cheat immigration rules for at least 1,200 clients, who paid him C$10million in the process.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team of immigration experts.