The long wait for citizenship
By Dyan Ruiz
“I’ve waited now for 13 months and I still have three years to go. It’s hard to believe!” said Lu Cheng, a business owner and resident of Canada referring to her wait-time for processing her citizenship application.
When Cheng took her citizenship test in November 2011, she did not bring her old passport. This flagged her application for immigration officials and she was asked to fill out a questionnaire. She later found the old passport and submitted copies of it to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), the federal agency responsible for processing citizenship applications. But it was too late. Her application would be considered non-routine and now she must wait years for it to be reviewed.
Liberal MPs say that Cheng’s story is like those of many Canadian permanent residents who have to wait years for their application for citizenship to be approved.
In an email to The Philippine Reporter on Jan. 19, 2013, Liberal Multiculturalism Critic Jim Karygiannis said that CIC officials have advised him and Immigration Critic Kevin Lamoureux that “the 48-month wait period is the new standard” for citizenship applications that require review.
Karygiannis said in the email that this means “hundreds, if not thousands of individuals who have already gone through the immigration process will be put into limbo for up to FOUR years before they are advised as to whether or not they even qualify for citizenship.”
When asked if the CIC gave Cheng any information on the status of her application, she said in an interview with The Philippine Reporter that the CIC did not send her any updates. “They just asked me to wait for 48 months, then they will assign my file for someone to review.”
“It’s very stressful,” she said. “I tried to correct my mistake but they never gave me a chance.”
When asked what she is doing now about her application she said, she will “Just wait. I have no other choice.”
Another Canadian permanent resident and business owner who does not want to be identified is in a similar situation. He has at least two more years of waiting after already passing his citizenship test. He was asked to fill a questionnaire because the CIC did not believe that his residence in his home country had ended, despite submitted documents to the contrary.
He said that a CIC official told him the day of The Philippine Reporter interview that his file has not been assigned to anyone, and it will take two years for it to be assigned. Having his application in limbo for so long has made it difficult for him to travel to visit his ailing mother in halfway around the world.
“I’m very, very, very frustrated. I feel like being honest, following the rules doesn’t mean anything,” he said.
In email responses to The Philippine Reporter, CIC Media Relations Spokesperson Nancy Caron said most wait-times are shorter than four years from start to finish. “Currently, it takes 21 months to process 80 per cent of routine Canadian citizenship applications… Applications are not considered routine if prospective citizens are asked to provide additional documents such as a residence questionnaire. While the processing time for such cases is usually longer than this, the Department does not maintain processing time estimates for such cases. The time needed to process non-routine cases varies from one case to the next.”
Non-routine cases include instances where necessary documents were not filed or applicants do not fulfill the residency requirements.
In response to the statements by the Liberal MPs, CIC Press Secretary Alexis Pavlich said, “The Liberal Critics have cherry-picked times from extraordinary cases in which CIC has had to undertake an investigation.”
“The increase in processing times is also partly due to new measures we have put in place to crack down on residency and citizenship fraud. This increased scrutiny has produced longer wait times,” he continued.
Meanwhile, Liberal MP Karygiannis said in a press release on Jan. 15, 2013 that Conservative government Immigration Minister “Jason Kenney needs to dial down the rhetoric about potential security threats and start doing the real work – providing the resources to cut the processing times.” He says that funding cuts are hampering the level of service at CIC.
“He and the Conservatives constantly urge permanent residents to make a commitment to Canada and become citizens, yet the Minister is responsible for putting up the barriers to obtain Canadian citizenship,” Karygiannis continued.
The Multiculturalism Critic said that over 300,000 citizenship applications by permanent residents are in a backlog.
When the CIC was asked about this number by The Philippine Reporter, Pavlich said citizenship acceptance levels have remained steady over the years, and the government is continuing to improve wait times especially in the long term.
For example “objective, third-party evidence of an applicant’s language proficiency will make it easier for citizenship judges to assess, and therefore fewer in-person interviews will be needed,” Pavlich said.
In the Filipino community, the new language proficiency requirement appears to be the biggest cause for concern when it comes to applying for Canadian citizenship.
Secretary General of the advocacy group Migrante Canada, Chris Sorio, said in an interview that many community members are coming up to him concerned about passing the requirement for English proficiency. They are worried about whether they can pass without taking an English class or paying for tests– things that they find difficult to do considering their jobs.
The chart explaining the language requirements on the CIC website is daunting (http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/citizenship/language-flowchart.asp). Sorio plans to hold a community meeting to help explain the requirements