StatCan: A portrait of citizenship in Canada from the 2021 Census

An informative and useful update from their earlier study based on previous censa (Trends in the Citizenship Rate Among New Immigrants to Canada).

Of particular interest to me were the following elements:

Numbers of Canadian citizens born abroad: 322,530. This number quantifies those who will be impacted by the first generation cut-off introduced by the Conservative government in 2009 and thus not able to pass on their Canadian citizenship to their children. This is currently being challenged in court with profiles of families affected. IMO, the previous retention provisions were virtually impossible to administer consistently and efficiently, and the first generation cut-off is preferable.

Naturalization rate:

“Among all eligible immigrants admitted to Canada at least four years before a census year, 83.1% or just over 6.0 million immigrants reported Canadian citizenship in the 2021 census, while a larger proportion of the immigrant population reported Canadian citizenship in 2016 (85.8%) and 2011 (87.8%).”

Yet IRCC continues to use, in its annual reporting, the percentage of all immigrants, no matter whether they arrived five or 50 years ago, as its benchmark. Totally irrelevant to measuring IRCC’s performance. As I continue to argue, IRCC needs to set performance standards with respect to recent immigrants, based on the previous census period (essentially the approach StatCan uses).

Improved data on dual citizenship: The change from a simple question regarding dual citizenship to a more complex two-step set of questions has resulted in an increase in the number reporting dual citizenship. The results of this change:

“In 2021, 11.2% or 3.7 million Canadian citizens reported more than one country of citizenship. This was over double the number reported in 2016, when 4.5% or 1.4 million of all Canadian citizens identified as having more than one citizenship.”

I will be doing a more comprehensive analysis of 2021 Census citizenship data over the coming months, updating my analysis of the 2016 Census (What the census tells us about citizenship):

Source: A portrait of citizenship in Canada from the 2021 Census

MPI: Naturalized Citizens in the United States

Useful background:

Naturalization is perhaps the most powerful marker of immigrants’ integration, as they take the fullest step towards participation in the civic life of their new country by becoming citizens. In the United States, naturalized citizens have the same privileges and responsibilities as U.S.-born citizens, including the right to vote and similar access to government benefits and public-sector jobs. They also receive the ability to sponsor immediate family members for immigration and cannot be deported.

More than 613,700 immigrants naturalized during fiscal year (FY) 2020, fewer than at any other point in the last decade. This decline may be partly due to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including delayed oath ceremonies; the FY 2020 number represented a 27 percent decline from the 843,600 naturalizations the prior year, which marked the largest number since FY 2008 (see Figure 1). Notably, trends for new naturalized citizens do not necessarily follow those for new lawful permanent residents (LPRs). Overall, there were 23.2 million naturalized U.S. citizens in the United States in 2019, the most recent reporting available, making up 52 percent of the overall immigrant population, which stood at 44.9 million.

Figure 1. New Naturalizations and New Lawful Permanent Residents, FY 1980-2020

Source: MPI tabulation of data from U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (Washington, DC: DHS Office of Immigration Statistics, various years), available online; DHS, “Legal Immigration and Adjustment of Status Report Fiscal Year 2020, Quarter 4,” accessed July 30, 2021.

In recent years, institutional factors such as processing times and case backlogs have affected the number of annual naturalizations, as have financial constraints in meeting the citizenship application fee of $725 and immigrants’ personal decisions about whether to apply. While the number of new naturalized citizens has fluctuated each year, processing wait times have increased. The average processing time for N-400 applications for naturalization increased to 11.5 months in FY 2021, up from 9.1 months in FY 2020 and about 10 months in FY 2019.

In order to become a citizen, applicants must meet a set of requirements outlined in the Immigration and Nationality Act. These include maintaining lawful permanent residence, also known as getting a green card, for several years (generally five, though a green-card holder married to a U.S. citizen can naturalize after three years), proving basic proficiency in English and knowledge of U.S. history and government, and passing a background check to demonstrate good moral character. In addition to legal benefits, naturalized citizens also tend to have better economic outcomes than other immigrants, including higher incomes and rates of homeownership.

Using the most recent available data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Immigration Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau (the most recent 2019 American Community Survey [ACS]), and other sources, this Spotlight provides information on new naturalized citizens in the United States, including historical trends, characteristics of naturalized citizens, and the population potentially eligible for naturalization.


John Oliver on “Petrifying” Process of Becoming a U.S. Citizen

One of the great levellers that brings different people together.

Even celebrities have to go through the standard process (when I was posted to LA, the consular staff regularly had to help the Canadian Hollywood crowd with their passport renewals):

John Oliver opened up about becoming a U.S. citizen when he stopped by CBS’ The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on Monday.

The Last Week Tonight host made a grand entrance and was carried onto the stage by four shirtless men dressed as Uncle Sam. “Yankee Doodle” played as Oliver shot a shirt out of a cannon. The theatrical entrance follows Jim Carrey’s appearance last week, in which Carrey parade onto the stage with a New Orleans-style second line band in tow and a purple umbrella in hand.

While talking to host Stephen Colbert, Oliver admitted that his journey to becoming a U.S. citizen has been a long time coming. “I came here in 2006, and so I’ve kind of been wanting this to happen pretty soon after that, so it’s been over a decade,” he said.

Oliver recapped the process, which included having to “go through a number of visas. I had to go through a green card, then I started applying for citizenship and now it takes longer because there’s sand in the gears of the system.” After his first green card expired, he had to apply for a second one.

Oliver said that the process was “unbelievably tense,” but added that he’s “incredible relieved” to now be a legal U.S. citizen.

He later explained the testing process, which includes “a hundred different questions and they kind of select 10 of them to fire at you.” Some examples of the questions Oliver could have been asked included naming state capitals and identifying the president.

“It’s incredibly nerve-wracking and the first question they asked me was, ‘What is your phone number?’ And I was so scared, I forgot,” he said. “She said, ‘Okay, let me just check your Social Security number,’ and I went, ‘I don’t know what that is, either. Oh, this isn’t going at all well.’ It was utterly petrifying.”

Oliver admitted to being “anxious” about becoming a citizen for over a decade. “Even the day of the ceremony, I kind of thought it was going to be a trap. There was part of me that literally thought they would open the door and there’d just be plastic sheeting on the ground like in Goodfellas and just Jared Kushner sitting in a swivel chair stroking a hairless cat,” he said. “That would’ve made more sense to me than the thing I wanted happening.”

When asked if he had to renounce the queen, Oliver responded, “I did that years ago, anyway.”

He then spoke about the “incredibly moving” experience of seeing other people become U.S. citizens during the ceremony. “It was 150 people from 49 different countries. All of us had been waiting a long time for this,” said Oliver. “There’s something very inspiring about the idea of these people choosing America — not just choosing America, but choosing America now when the country’s not at its best.

“Choosing America now is like falling in love with someone who’s vomiting all over themselves,” he continued. “‘I’m taking a flier. There’s a great human being under here.'”

The HBO host added, “It was very inspiring to watch people buy into the idea of America, which obviously outlasts any president. The idea is still sound.”

Oliver previously spoke about becoming a U.S. citizen in a recent Hollywood Reporter cover story. “The feeling you get at the end of that process is overwhelming relief,” he said during the interview. “And that it’s nothing to do with the current president.”

Source: John Oliver on “Petrifying” Process of Becoming a U.S. Citizen

Canada expects a 40 per cent increase in citizenship among immigrants by 2024

Good overview by Kareem El-Assal, who included the need for a more meaningful performance standard:

A new Statistics Canada study that shows fewer recent immigrants are gaining Canadian citizenship is cause for concern, but improvements are on the horizon. 

Becoming a citizen is one of the defining life moments of Canada’s immigrants. It marks the end of their newcomer journey and the beginning of their journey as a Canadian with the same rights as those born in Canada. These include the right to vote, to run for political office, to gain preferential treatment when applying to government jobs, to travel with a Canadian passport, and to travel outside of Canada indefinitely.

Canada takes pride in supporting the citizenship journey of immigrants as the country’s high rate of citizenship acquisition is an important indicator that Canada does a good job of facilitating integration. A 2018 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported that 91 per cent of immigrants who had lived in Canada for at least 10 years held citizenship, compared with the OECD average of 63 per cent. Other top destinations for immigrants such as Australia (81 per cent) and the United States (62 per cent) lag behind Canada by a wide margin.

Citizenship acquisition is down

Statistics Canada’s new study finds that citizenship acquisition stood at 86 per cent at the time of the 2016 Census compared with 82 per cent during the 1991 Census.

This promising finding, however, is overshadowed by the significant decline in citizenship acquisition among more recent immigrant cohorts.

In 1996, for example, 68 per cent of eligible immigrants who had been in Canada for five years were citizens, but this figure fell to 43 per cent in 2016. In fact, Statistics Canada’s analysis found that the citizenship rate for most immigrant cohorts fell in 2016 compared with the 2006 Census. Immigrants with low income, official language proficiency, and education have experienced the sharpest drop in naturalization.

Why has naturalization fallen among recent immigrants?

Statistics Canada’s analysis strongly suggests that citizenship policy changes made by Canada over the past decade have hurt naturalization rates.

In 2010, Canada introduced new language requirements and a new citizenship exam. Immigrants between the ages of 14 and 64 had to demonstrate a minimum language proficiency and obtain a pass mark of at least 75 per cent on their citizenship exam (the previous pass mark was 60 per cent). In 2017, these requirements were reversed to only apply to those aged between 18 and 54.

The rationale for these changes was to ensure immigrants were integrating into Canadian society by demonstrating their language proficiency and understanding of Canada’s history, geography, politics, laws, and economy. The government also introduced multiple versions of the citizenship test to reduce cheating and ensure immigrants had a strong knowledge of the topics that it covered.

In addition, the federal government increased the citizenship application fee from $100 to $300 for adults in February 2014 and then raised it again to $530 in January 2015. The fee for children remained the same at $100. Both adult and child applicants also had to pay an extra $100 “right of citizenship fee.”

The fee hikes were justified on the basis they helped the government recover the costs of processing citizenship applications.

Stricter language proficiency and citizenship test requirements have made it more difficult for immigrants with weak language skills and low education to become citizens.

Moreover, the increase in citizenship fees made it less affordable for low-income immigrants to apply for citizenship. Consider that it currently costs a total of $630 per person to apply for citizenship. A family of four needs to pay $1,500, which may be difficult if they are barely making ends meet.

Citizenship rates should increase

Recent policy shifts could improve naturalization rates in the coming years.

For instance, Canada has increased its economic class selection standards over the past decade, which means more immigrants are arriving with higher levels of language proficiency. Family class immigrants tend to have similar socio-economic characteristics as the Canadian citizens and permanent residents sponsoring them, which means that higher economic class selection standards should result in more family class immigrants arriving with higher human capital.

Reducing language test and citizenship exam requirements for only those between the ages of 18 and 54 will likely also improve citizenship rates since older immigrants tend to have weaker English or French skills than younger ones.

The cost will also no longer be a prohibitive factor in applying for citizenship if the Liberals enact their 2019 federal election campaign promise to waive citizenship fees entirely.

Set better performance standards

One major area for improvement, according to Andrew Griffith, a Canadian citizenship policy researcher, is the introduction of better performance standards that enable the federal government to track how quickly recent immigrants are becoming citizens.

In a recent column, Griffith observes that the federal government tends to measure success based on the total number of eligible immigrants who become citizens, irrespective of when they moved to Canada.

A limitation of this approach is it fails to capture how immigration and citizenship policy reforms and socioeconomic conditions are affecting citizenship uptake of recent immigrant arrivals.

Griffith argues that a more prudent approach to measuring Canada’s effectiveness in supporting integration and citizenship acquisition is by setting performance standards that formally measure the citizenship rates of recent immigrants (those in Canada 5-9 years).

This would enable Canada to make policy adjustments as required to promote higher citizenship rates among this cohort.

40 per cent increase by 2024?

The Liberal campaign platform forecasted they will spend $110 million in 2023-2024 to process citizenship applications compared with the $75 million to be spent over the coming federal government fiscal year.

This 40 per cent increase in spending suggests the government expects a 40 per cent increase in new citizens by 2024.

If this is the case, Canada will reverse its declining rate of naturalization among recent immigrants in the coming years — and that would further cement Canada’s leadership among its OECD peers in facilitating integration.


Canada faces dramatic drop in citizenship, prompting concerns about disengaged immigrants

Canadian Multiculturalism: Evidence and Anecdote Deck - Images.039Further to yesterday’s post regarding my forthcoming book (Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote) and the deck summarizing some of the high level results, the Toronto Star article focussing on my findings regarding citizenship take-up and the impact of the 2010 changes (the chart above shows the impact of the citizenship test changes on different ethnic groups):

“In the past, citizenship was viewed as a stepping stone to immigrant integration, and it should be done earlier on,” said Griffith, who will present Multiculturalism in Canada at a three-day national immigration and settlement conference in Vancouver that starts Thursday.

“These changes have made it harder and prohibitive for some to acquire citizenship, turning Canada into a country where an increasing percentage of immigrants are likely to remain non-citizens, without the ability to engage in the Canadian political process.”

Based on latest government data, Griffith found that the ratio of permanent residents who eventually become citizens has been in decline since 2000, and has dropped most rapidly in recent years.

Only 26 per cent of permanent residents who settled in Canada in 2008 have acquired Canadian citizenship, compared with 44 per cent for the wave of immigrants settling in 2007, and 79 per cent of those who arrived in 2000.

Griffith said the government data used in his analysis was selected to reflect the fact that it takes immigrants an average six years to acquire Canadian citizenship. The 2008 cohort best indicates the early impact of reforms implemented by the Conservative government.

The permanent-resident-to-citizen conversion rate does generally rise the longer immigrants have been in Canada. But an 18 per cent decrease between the 2008 and 2007 cohorts is alarming, Griffith said.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokesperson Johanne Nadeau said Canada has one of the highest naturalization rates in the world, “as 86 per cent of eligible permanent residents for Canadian citizenship decide to acquire it.”

She suggested the Griffith is misinterpreting the data because “he is not taking into account those (permanent residents) who are not yet eligible to become citizens because they haven’t met all of the requirements needed to begin the citizenship process.”

Citizens are protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, can vote in elections and are entitled to Canadian passports. Not only do permanent residents not have those privileges, they are also vulnerable to revocation of their status and removals from Canada.

“I understand the rationale behind these government changes,” said Griffith, who worked for the government as the reforms were developed and rolled out, and retired in 2013.

“But I’m on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion. We need to make sure those who apply for citizenship take it seriously, but we don’t want to inadvertently create excessive barriers and shift the relationship of some of the communities with the country.”

… “When you make it more difficult for some communities to become citizens, you are going to create issues with their engagement, attachment and identity of Canada,” said Griffith.

“The question is how we balance between ensuring the rigours of the (citizenship) process and yet making it fair and reasonable.”

Canada faces dramatic drop in citizenship, prompting concerns about disengaged immigrants