Canadian citizenship should be seen as a reward for Permanent Residents who have established themselves in the country and become exemplary citizens. However, in reality, measures to prevent immigration fraud are unnecessarily penalizing law abiding people applying for citizenship.
My friend’s travail makes a good case study of the problems being faced by many.
I spent most of the spring and summer of 2011 helping her prepare for the citizenship test. We got together twice a week, read the booklet sent to her by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and went further than what was required for the test as she was eager to learn as much as she could about her new country.
My friend loves Canada and is interested in its people, its geography, its government and its politics. She took several mock tests online to make sure that she would pass the real one. When she spoke of becoming a citizen, her face lit up. The night before the exam, we spoke and I reassured her that she was ready and that she would get her citizenship.
On exam day I received a phone call from my friend. She was crying and was extremely upset. She said the officer who checked her identification before writing the exam noticed that she had travelled outside Canada many times. The officer could not take the time to do the calculations for the required number of days she was present in the country although my friend met the requirement. Instead, he gave her a long questionnaire to complete and a long list of documents to submit before a specific date.
The questionnaire asked detailed questions of every aspect of her life in the last nine years. The list of documents included health records from the Ministry of Health, a record of visits to the United States from the authorities there, a record of her trips out of Canada by the Canadian Border Services Agency, all her income tax returns for the four years prior to the application, documents to prove employment and schools she attended during those four years and much more.
My friend is alone in Canada and has a brother and niece and nephews in the USA. She travels stateside on the children’s birthdays and all Jewish holidays. She also travelled to her country of birth to sell her properties. She invested the money from the transactions in Canada. In total she was out of Canada 145 days in the four years preceding her application. The residency requirement for citizenship is that a permanent resident reside in Canada for 1095 days in the four years preceding the application.
It took weeks for her to gather all the documents required. Some that had to come from government departments took a lot longer and documents from the US took six months to arrive. It has been over a year since all the documents were submitted, but she is yet to hear from CIC. When she calls them, she is told that her file is under process and she has to wait.
As she waits in limbo, my friend is becoming more and more disillusioned about Canada. She has a hard time understanding why she is being treated like a criminal when she has done everything by the book. She questions whether a Permanent Resident (PR) has no right to procedural fairness and is convinced she should not be made to pay the price for the wrongdoings of others.
Whenever I see her, I try to avoid the subject as it upsets her very much. She tells me that she feels mistreated, insulted and most of all frustrated. She needs to go out of the country for her niece’s bat mitzvah but is afraid to leave as it might be seen as a sign that she does not care about Canada. As her PR card is going to expire, she will now have to apply for an extension. Something she would not have to do if she were a citizen.
While my friend is at a loss to understand why she was being treated this way, the fact is that many people are facing the same situation. An application which was supposed to take no more than 21 months to process after completing the required time of residence in Canada, is now taking more than four years.
If the government wants to continue with these measures, it should perhaps increase the CIC budget to ensure prompt and humane processing of applications. The process should not, instead, unintentionally impart pain and suffering.
[Vilma Filici is Director of Immigration Issues with the Canadian Hispanic Congress]
Editor’s note: Do you have an immigrant point of view you’d like to share with our readers? Please send us a two-paragraph preview, along with two lines about yourself.