Canada seeks to cut down on passports of convenience

OTTAWA,  (Reuters) – Canada will toughen citizenship rules to prevent foreigners from picking up Canadian passports of convenience without spending much time in the country, part of a sweeping package of reforms under legislation introduced on Thursday.

Canada remains one of countries most open to immigration and plans to attract about 250,000 a year, in part because it needs workers to make up for a low birth rate. But the new rules would try to prevent abuse of the citizenship process.

The bill would crack down on fraud and give Ottawa the right to strip citizenship from dual citizens who engage in armed conflict with Canada or terrorism, while streamlining the system to reduce the processing time significantly.

“Our government is strengthening the value of Canadian citizenship. Canadians understand that citizenship should not be simply a passport of convenience,” Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said in a statement.

“Citizenship is a pledge of mutual responsibility and a shared commitment to values rooted in our history.”

The new act will require immigrants to be physically present for four out of six years and declare an “intent to reside.” Currently they have to establish legal residence for three of four years but do not actually have to be physically present or intend to reside in Canada.

Applicants will need greater proficiency in English or French: they will no longer be able to use an interpreter when they take a test on knowledge about Canada. In addition, the age of those subject to language requirements will widen, to 14 to 64 years from the current 18 to 54.

Penalties for fraud will jump to a maximum of C$100,000 ($90,090) from the current C$1,000, and up to five years in prison instead of one year.

Among other changes:

– Applicants must be up to date on Canadian income taxes.

– A rise in adult citizenship application fees to C$300 from C$100, plus an unchanged right-of-citizenship fee of C$100 for successful applicants.

– A faster track to citizenship for those serving with the Canadian Armed Forces.

– A single-step process for citizenship instead of a three-step process, greatly reducing the need for citizenship judges.

The department has a backlog of 350,000 citizenship applications by permanent residents. The new system should cut down the processing time to less than a year by 2016, from the current 24 to 36 months.

The biggest source of new immigrants to Canada is Asia, led by China, the Philippines, India and Pakistan. (US$1=$1.11 Canadian).

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