IRCC Citizenship Evaluation: Uptake and Fees

Given my earlier work highlighting a recent decline in naturalization, a study guide and test written at more advance language levels, and the possible link with the increases in citizenship fees, found these sections of the recent evaluation of the citizenship program to be of particular interest, providing a nuanced analysis of recent trends and impact of the citizenship fee increases.

Found it somewhat amusing that the evaluation included a similar trend chart to one I shared a number of years ago to provoke some needed discussion, and one that I refined to provide a more accurate picture thanks to the advice of some former IRCC colleagues.

Interestingly, in the management response to the fee issue, no mention was made of the government’s election platform commitment to waive citizenship fees entirely but softer commitments to:

Action 1a: As part of IRCC’s review of citizenship fees, bring forward a plan to EXComm to address affordability.

Action 1b: Bring forward a plan for a free or low-cost option citizenship-specific language test based on the Canadian Language Benchmarks and work toward adding it to the list of acceptable evidence.

There is a wealth of data and analysis contained in the evaluation, including application data which is not published as part of the monthly operational statistics on opendata along with informative surveys on reasons for applying for citizenship:

4.1.1 Overall uptake

Canada has one of the highest naturalization rates among Western countries. Citizenship research based on census data shows that Canada’s naturalization rate (i.e., the proportion of PRs who become citizens) increased from about 81.6% in 1991 to 86.3% in 2016. However, the rate among more recent immigrants (five to nine years in Canada) declined, suggesting that immigrants are taking longer to become citizens.

Research based on Census data allows for the study of citizenship uptake over a longer period of time (30 or more years), but is less robust as it is based on self-reporting, and does not consider the immigrant’s decision to apply for citizenship as part of uptake process. The decision to apply is also a valid proxy of desire for citizenship. It does not exclude individuals with an interest whose applications are refused, or those who may be delayed in obtaining it due to limitations with IRCC’s application processing capacity. With this in mind, the evaluation examined citizenship uptake using administrative data from GCMS, and looked at the initial uptake of PRs admitted to Canada between 2005 and 2015, who had obtained or applied for citizenship by the end of 2018.

Overall, the analysis found that citizenship uptake was 57% for this population, with 50% of PRs having become citizens, and 7% having applied. The analysis also showed that the more years in Canada, the greater the percentage of PRs who had obtained or applied for citizenship (Figure 1). Citizenship uptake ranged from 21% after 3 years in Canada as a PR (2015 cohort) to 76.5% after 13 years in Canada as a PR (2005 cohort).

4.1.2 Challenges related to fees

Finding: The citizenship application fee is a common challenge for permanent residents, particularly refugees, families and those with lower income.

Sections 31 and 32 of the Citizenship Regulations deal with the structure of two fees related to citizenship: the Fee for Right to be a Citizen, and the Fee for Application to be a citizen. The Fee for Right to be a Citizen is payable only by applicants aged 18 years or older, at a cost of $100. The Fee for Application varies from $100 for minor grant applications, to $530 for adult grant applications.Of note, these fees do not account for extraneous costs related to applying for citizenship that applicants may incur.

The adult grant application fee increased twice during the evaluation period.A review of citizenship grant application data did not reveal a significant decrease in the volume of applications received after these changes were implemented.Interviews also suggested little to no impact of these changes overall, but pointed to possible challenges for vulnerable people, like refugees.

Evaluation survey results were consistent with interview findings. While many respondents did not indicate a problem with the application fee, 28% indicated that it had delayed or was preventing them from applying for citizenship at the time of the survey. This percentage was greater for resettled refugees and protected persons, respondents with a personal income of $60,000 or less, and those with 5 or more people on their application (or future application) (Table 4). Moreover, about half of evaluation survey respondents who had not applied for citizenship felt a lower application fee would encourage them to apply.

Census-based research also showed evidence of a more pronounced decline in naturalization among recent immigrants (5 to 9 years in Canada) with low family income. Findings from the interviews and focus groups with PRs suggested that economically disadvantaged newcomers, such as those who are unemployed, are not able to afford the costs associated with applying (e.g., costs associated with third-party language testing). Moreover, the fear of being unsuccessful in an application (e.g., not passing the knowledge test) and losing the applications fees (or paying to reapply) was also noted in the focus groups with PRs and program-led consultations on Discover Canada.  The impact of the fees was also thought to be amplified for larger families with multiple applications.

Citizenship test and study guide:

Interviews generally noted that the test is efficient, easy-to-grade, and objectively scored. However, the language level of the test and study guide was viewed as higher than the language requirement. Moreover, the evaluation observed that the two requirements involve different skills. The official language criteria are based on oral communication skills (speaking and listening), while the knowledge test is generally written and requires reading skills. Although applicants can access an audio version of the study guide and an oral knowledge hearing, this does not address comprehension challenges related to language level.

Program-led consultations on Discover Canada (to update the study guide) also found that the language level can be difficult for many newcomers. Similarly, research findings suggested challenges with the approach, as the knowledge test pass rate dropped sharply for applicants (18- 54) after the Discover Canada study guide was introduced – from about 96% to 83.5% in 2011. Consultation findings highlighted a need for the wording and tone to be more inclusive and easier to understand, and included suggestions for the use of plain language and definitions, having less text and more visuals, and providing additional tools and support to increase accessibility and effectively communicate the information in the study guide. As a result of these consultations, a new approach, including a new guide and additional tools, is being developed to help address these concerns, but it had not yet been implemented at the time of the evaluation.


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.

One Response to IRCC Citizenship Evaluation: Uptake and Fees

  1. eve haque says:

    thanks for this Andrew – where is the evaluation (is it a IRCC evaluation – is there a link to the evaluation report)? thanks and again thanks for all your great work on these issues. Eve

    On Fri, Nov 27, 2020 at 7:06 AM Multicultural Meanderings wrote:

    > Andrew posted: ” Given my earlier work highlighting a recent decline in > naturalization, a study guide and test written at more advance language > levels, and the possible link with the increases in citizenship fees, found > these sections of the recent evaluation of the cit” >

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