Latest StatsCan Citizenship Study: Declining naturalization

This latest study by Statistics Canada on the naturalization rate is both humbling and gratifying.

Humbling in its methodological rigour and thoroughness, compared to my more rudimentary analysis. 

Gratifying, in that it confirms my earlier sounding the alarm that the recent naturalization rate has been declining, for lower income, lower educated and less official language fluent immigrants.

The paper also strengthens the case for IRCC to adopt a meaningful performance standard for the citizenship program, one based upon the naturalization rate for those immigrants who have been in Canada between five and nine years (previous census period) rather than the current meaningless performance measure related to all immigrants, whether recent or many years ago.

Conclusion excerpted below:

This paper uses census data from 1991 to 2016 to examine changes in the citizenship rate among recent immigrants who meet the residency requirement to become citizens. The results show that the citizenship rate among recent immigrants peaked in 1996 and declined considerably since then. This decline primarily occurred after 2006. Furthermore, the decline in the citizenship rate varied across socio-demographic characteristics, and the timing of the decline varied across immigrant groups as well.

Immigrants with lower family incomes experienced a much larger decline in citizenship rates than did those with higher family incomes. The decline among lower income immigrant families largely occurred between 2006 and 2011. The citizenship rate also declined much more among immigrants with poorer official language skills than it did among immigrants whose mother tongue was English or French. The citizenship rate among immigrants with poorer official language skills has been declining since 2001 and was observed over all intercensal periods. Education was also a factor, with citizenship rates declining much more among immigrants with lower than higher levels of educational attainment. This was primary observed between 2011 and 2016.

When all three of these factors—family income, knowledge of official languages, and educational attainment—are combined, the citizenship rate was more or less constant between 1996 and 2016 for the most advantaged group of recent immigrants (i.e., with a high income, university education, and English or French as a mother tongue). In contrast, it declined significantly among the more disadvantaged group (i.e., with a low income, high school or less education and mother tongue not English or French).

There was also significant variation in the extent to which citizenship rates declined among immigrants from different source regions. Most striking was the large decline in citizenship take-up among immigrants from East Asia—mainly China. Indeed, by 2016 the citizenship rate among recent Chinese immigrants more closely resembled the rate among immigrants from developed rather than from developing countries.

Source: Trends in the Citizenship Rate Among New Immigrants to Canada (11-626-X2019015)

The CP story on the study:

Fewer newcomers from disadvantaged groups became Canadian citizens during a 10-year period that coincided with the previous Conservative government’s changes to the citizenship program, new Statistics Canada research shows.

The decrease was part an overall trend in declining citizenship rates among those who have been in Canada less than 10 years, despite the fact the actual citizenship rate in Canada is among the highest in the Western world, Statistics Canada said in the study released Wednesday.

The researchers found that between 1991 and 2016, the citizenship rate in Canada – the percentage of immigrants who become citizens – rose about five percentage points, but the increase was largely driven by people who had been in Canada for over a decade.

But beginning in 1996 and until 2016, the citizenship rate for those who’d been in the country for less than 10 years began to fall.

Using adjusted income measurements, Statistics Canada found that for those with incomes below $10,000, the drop was 23.5 percentage points, compared to just three percentage points for those with incomes over $100,000.

In the same decade, the citizenship rate fell 22.5 percentage points among people with less than a high school education, compared with 13.8 percentage points among those with university degrees.

In the case of both income levels and education, the gaps widened between 2011 and 2016.

Between 2011 and 2015, the Conservative government of the day overhauled the citizenship program, hiking citizenship fees from $100 to $630 and implementing stricter language, residency and knowledge requirements.

The Statistics Canada research does not provide specific reasons for the decline in citizenship rates.

“Multiple policy changes were made throughout the 2006 to 2016 period,” Laurence Beaudoin-Corriveau, an agency spokesperson, said in an email. “It is difficult to pinpoint the effect of a particular policy change with the census data, which are collected every five years.”

The Conservatives defended the decision to raise citizenship fees – they had not increased since 1995 – by arguing that the fee didn’t come close to covering the cost of actually processing the applications. They had foreseen that the rise could impact applications, noting at the time it might mean people wait longer in order to save the money required.

In their platform during the recent federal election, the Liberals took the opposite approach, promising to eliminate the fee beginning next year.

“The process of granting citizenship is a government service, not something that should be paid for with a user fee,” the platform said.

The Liberals pegged the cost of removing the fee at $391 million over four years.

In 2017, they also eased other citizenship requirements, including residency obligations and the age range for being required to pass language and knowledge tests.

According to the latest numbers from Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada, 176,473 people became Canadian citizens in 2018, up from 106,373 the year before.

Source: New Statistics Canada study suggests decline in citizenship rate tied to income

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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