Canada now accepts citizenship applications online

Good. Will be interesting to see the take up once expanded to families and whether that reduces processing time along with providing more timely application statistics:

Canadian permanent residents can now submit applications for citizenship online.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has launched a new online tool that allows citizenship applications to be submitted online.

Get help applying for Canadian citizenship

As of August 11, IRCC has opened the online portal to single applicants over the age of 18. It is not open to family applications, nor representatives. Also, it is not open to those who are employed by the crown and living outside of Canada.

Later in 2020, IRCC intends to open the online application to families, and minors under age 18. In 2022, the online application will be available to representative to apply on behalf of their clients. It will also be open to crown servants declaring residence outside Canada.

Applicants who have already submitted on paper should not try to reapply online, IRCC says in a media release.

IRCC had already been developing this new tool, as part of an initiative to modernize the immigration system. In late 2020, it released the tool to test the platform’s capacity.

The new online portal allows applicants to save partially-completed applications and resume them at a later time. It also allows users to upload supporting documents, proof of payment, print a PDF and ask for a confirmation of receipt.

Modernization of the immigration system

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has said his vision for Canada’s immigration system to become paperless.

The pandemic forced IRCC to start modernizing to allow for immigration to continue amid public health measures. So far, Canada has made citizenship testing available online, and also started holding virtual citizenship ceremonies.

Along other lines of business, the department has also begun doing virtual landings for newly-arrived permanent residents. For immigration applicants, a number of paper-based programs are starting to go digital.

Source: Canada now accepts citizenship applications online

He passed his Canadian citizenship test — then came a call saying there was a problem

Hopefully, just teething pains of the online testing system. But why officials wouldn’t be more transparent on the extent of the problem is hard to understand and citing “program integrity reasons” is not an adequate explanation:

Yaseen Alshehadat said he carefully followed each step to proceed with his citizenship exam, scanning a photo ID and taking a selfie with his computer camera, before writing the online test in late February.

The Mississauga man was relieved when he got an email from the immigration department right away congratulating him for passing the test. Maybe now he could finally get some sleep after moving one step closer to fulfilling his dream to become a Canadian citizen.

But the next day, Alshehadat received a call from an immigration official informing him that his exam result was invalidated because the image of his OHIP card, the piece of photo ID he used for the test, did not register in the system.

“I worked 14 hours a day, and for weeks, I came home and stayed up to study the citizenship guide. It was very stressful and I had very little sleep,” said Alshehadat, whose family fled Syria in 2011 and resettled in Canada in 2016 via Jordan under a government refugee sponsorship.

“I had two dreams. My first dream was to open my own business in Canada. I did that last year. My second dream was to become a Canadian. I’m so disappointed at the news,” added the father of six, who opened Yaseen’s Shawarma in October.

Alshehadat and his wife, Ikhlas Alnaseer, applied for Canadian citizenship in November 2019 and were thrilled when they were finally invited in February to take the online test after citizenship processing had stalled due to the pandemic. The immigration department began hosting virtual citizenship ceremonies last spring but only resumed remote citizenship tests in late November.

Alshehadat took his test at 4 a.m. on Feb. 25; his wife had hers the following day. They said that’s the only time they could quietly sit for the exam in front of their daughter’s laptop. Alshehadat answered 18 of the 20 multiple-choice questions correctly and Alnaseer scored 16 — both above the passing mark of 15.

Then came the call from the immigration department that their test scores were invalidated “due to lack of ID,” even though officials had a record of the individuals in front of the screen sitting the exam. They would not accept the couple’s missing ID documents afterward but insisted Alshehadat and Alnaseer retake the test.

“Whether through applicant error, technical glitch or other reason, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) did not receive photo identification from either applicant as required prior to taking the exam,” department spokesperson Derek Abma told the Star in an email.

“Verifying applicants’ identities is essential to ensuring the security and integrity of our immigration system. This is true across all of IRCC’s processes, but especially when it comes to obtaining Canadian citizenship.”

Abma said an applicant’s identity must be confirmed at the time each requirement is being met. An official verifies the identity of the candidate by comparing faces on the identity document provided at the time of the test, the citizenship photo provided with the application and the applicant’s proctored webcam photos. A candidate can provide a permanent resident card, a driver’s licence or health card prior to starting the test. This must be provided before starting the test, said Abma, and cannot be added after.

There are instances when verification of identity through photo identification is unable to take place during the citizenship test, he said, but they are rare.

Source: He passed his Canadian citizenship test — then came a call saying there was a problem

Ottawa will continue online citizenship tests after success of pilot program

After a slow start, some encouraging news:

Ottawa’s groundbreaking virtual citizenship exam pilot program has exceeded its target intake, and more online tests will be scheduled.

Since the exam was launched virtually at the end of November, more than 6,700 applicants have taken the test, surpassing the initial target of 5,000, according to Asim Zaidan of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“Prior to the pandemic, IRCC had embarked on a citizenship modernization program to improve client service delivery. Online tests are a part of this program, and have been prioritized due to COVID-19,” Zaidan told the Star in an email.

“Moving citizenship events — ceremonies, tests and interviews — to an online format is a part of the department’s goal of bringing efficiencies to the citizenship program and simplifying the application process.”

The pandemic has slowed much of the department’s operations due to reduced processing capacity as staff moved — and continued — to work from home. The delay led to a ballooning backlog of more than 85,000 people awaiting a test and thousands of others in the queue to be officiated as new Canadians.

While citizenship exams were resumed only virtually two months ago, online citizenship ceremonies returned earlier in June. To date, almost 50,000 new Canadians have taken their oath at 8,000 virtual ceremonies.

“This has been successful thus far. At this point, the new testing platform is still being assessed,” said Zaidan.

“A further number of applicants continue to be invited to take the online test, and we continue to monitor system performance closely and make improvements if necessary.”

Source: Ottawa will continue online citizenship tests after success of pilot program

Citizenship tests set to resume online after 8-month suspension

Better late than never:

The immigration department is resuming citizenship tests that were put on hold more than eight months ago due to the global pandemic, with safeguards in place to ensure proper identification of those taking the tests online.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is launching a new virtual platform today for the citizenship tests, which will be offered online to a small group at first – the roughly 5,000 people who had dates scheduled before the pandemic that were subsequently cancelled, and other priority cases.

IRCC said the platform will be tested over the next few months and more people will be invited to use it — likely early in the new year — after performance monitoring proves it works reliably.

Before beginning the test, participants will be asked to confirm their identity through personal information, and they will have to take a photo of themselves and their ID documents with a webcam before the test can begin.

The system will take photos of participants during the test — a process that has been used to ensure the integrity of other tests that moved online due to the pandemic, such as bar exams or law school admissions tests.

20 questions, 30 minutes

The format of the online test will be the same as the in-person test, with 20 questions and 30 minutes to complete them. 

IRCC said in a notice provided to CBC news that that people do not need to reach out to the department — those invited to take the online test will be notified by email.

People can also wait to take the test in-person, but no date has been set yet for resuming that process. 

IRCC cancelled all citizenship tests, re-tests, hearings and interviews on March 14 due to the pandemic. Citizenship ceremonies were also halted at that time but have resumed since as virtual events.

Before COVID-19 struck, a citizenship modernization program was in the works that included plans for online tests.

Lives in limbo

Today’s development likely will come as welcome news to thousands of newcomers whose lives were in limbo because of the suspension.

All citizenship applicants aged 18 to 54 must pass the test to become Canadian citizens. Citizenship allows a newcomer the right to vote and obtain a passport, and also gives many a sense of security and permanence.

Many argued that if schools and universities can operate virtually, citizenship tests should be offered online as well. But some lawyers have warned that an online process could allow people to cheat the system.

IRCC says people can take the test whenever it’s convenient for them, while offering the test online will help to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by limiting in-person gatherings.


Citizenship applicants call on Ottawa to resume knowledge tests halted due to COVID-19

Given that we are unlikely to be out of various lockdowns and restrictions for the next 6 months, hard to understand why the government is not able to move faster on this beyond citizenship being a lessor priority for IRCC.

The last dataset on new citizens dates from June, compared to immigration datasets which include August data and will likely be updated with September data this week:

After spending the prime years of her childhood fleeing conflict and living as a refugee in Turkey, Sedra Alshamaly describes her arrival in Canada four years ago with warmth and gratitude.

“It’s the first place we felt welcomed,” said Sedra, now 12. “We felt like we belonged here.”

Sedra and her family arrived in Canada in 2016 after a circuitous journey sparked by the Syrian civil war. Today, she describes herself as a more-or-less ordinary Canadian Grade 7 student and a budding artist.

Source: Citizenship applicants call on Ottawa to resume knowledge tests halted due to COVID-19

Immigrants say their lives are in limbo as pandemic blocks their path to citizenship

Certainly, Canada has performed worse than Australia, with only about 7,000 online ceremonies, or about one-tenth of Australia’s (the issues regarding online testing, as highlighted by those in the article, are more complex given integrity concerns):

Six months after the federal government cancelled citizenship tests due to COVID-19, many immigrants say they fear a growing backlog in the citizenship queue will delay indefinitely their goal of becoming Canadians.

Before the pandemic hit, the entire citizenship process took an average of 12 months. Now, applicants say they have no idea when in-person tests will resume — and they’re calling on the federal government to hold online or physically distanced exams.

Myrann Abainza came to Canada from the Philippines as a live-in caregiver in 2009 and was joined by her husband and two daughters six years later.

Her family was on track to obtain citizenship when COVID-19 struck. Frustrated by the delay and a lack of information from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), she said the government should find a way of holding in-person tests that respect public health guidelines.

“If schools are reopening, why not?” she said.

“It is very important for me because I’ve been waiting for this for a very long time. It’s my dream. It’s my dream to become a Canadian citizen.”

IRCC’s website states that as of March 14, all citizenship tests, re-tests, hearings and interviews are cancelled due to the pandemic. Citizenship ceremonies were also halted at that time but have resumed since as virtual events.

IRCC told CBC News it is looking at alternatives to provide citizenship tests but offered no timeframe.

Immigration department ‘considering options’

“The department is reviewing operations and considering options for resumption of services, which could include online citizenship tests,” said department spokesperson Beatrice Fenelon.

Tests and interviews are critical steps that must be completed before someone can become a Canadian citizen. Citizenship allows a newcomer the right to vote and obtain a passport, and also gives many a sense of security and permanent belonging.

Basel Masri, who arrived in Canada as a refugee from Turkey after fleeing conflict in his home country of Syria, is one of those whose path to citizenship has been stalled by the pandemic.

Like many of the citizenship applicants CBC contacted for this story, Masri checks the status of his application through an online portal every day — only to learn that his file is still “in process.”

Masri said much of his anxiety is due to a lack of information coming from IRCC.

“Is it going to be for two years now, the processing time? Nobody knows,” he said.

“All the time you think about your application, you think about your passports, you think about your citizenship, you think about so many things. You think about your family.”

A push for online tests

Now that IRCC has started virtual oath-taking ceremonies, Masri said it should be able to securely administer online citizenship tests.

According to figures provided by IRCC, nearly 7,000 online oath ceremonies have been conducted since the pandemic struck, with more than 17,500 people being sworn in as new citizens.

The department is now ramping the number of oath ceremonies and allowing multiple participants in each event, to reach a target of 2,000 new citizens per week. In 2019, an average of 4,738 new citizens were sworn in every week at in-person ceremonies, according to IRCC.

Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Zool Suleman said the global pandemic has slowed down immigration processing times across the board.

While in-person citizenship tests might be possible, he said, officials would have to take precautions to keep the test-takers and the staff administering the tests safe and comfortable.

But delivering a virtual test would be even more challenging, since IRCC would have to verify the identity of the person taking the test and ensure that the answers aren’t being provided by a third party.

Many people have argued that if schools and universities can operate virtually, citizenship tests could also be held online. But Suleman said the stakes are particularly high with the citizenship test.

Risks with virtual tests

“I think an online test would be considered risky for Canada immigration because it leads to a very important right for people when they become citizens,” he said. “So there would be some concern that there would be an abuse of any kind of non-secure process.”

Ottawa-based immigration lawyer Julie Taub said the technology is there to conduct virtual tests, but agreed that IRCC would need to take steps to ensure the integrity of the process.

“It’s hard to find a foolproof way if you do it online to ensure they’re not cheating,” she said.

Taub said many of the delays in the immigration process are caused by staff working from home due to the pandemic. She said that’s led to much frustration among immigrants attempting to access services.

Olga Lenchenko has been in Canada for six years. She arrived from Ukraine when her husband accepted a job as an accountant.

Their citizenship test was scheduled for the end of March, then cancelled due to COVID-19.

She said she has mixed feelings about the situation. She said she understands the health threat posed by the coronavirus but she feels the lack of movement on testing is unfair.

“It’s been six months and we haven’t received any updates. It is very hard emotionally to be in limbo,” she said.

“We’ve been dreaming about the day we become citizens. Now, all the thrill is gone.”

Source: Immigrants say their lives are in limbo as pandemic blocks their path to citizenship

Be in Canada, bring scissors; instructions for online citizenship ceremonies Canada is now holding citizenship ceremonies online, so some new guidelines have been put in place.

Further to my earlier post, contrasting Australia’s 60,000 to Canada’s 1,000 new citizens over the past 3 months or so, @canadavisa_com flagged the new guidelines for online ceremonies:

Canada is not letting the coronavirus pandemic rob immigrants of their special day, but since citizenship ceremonies now take place over Zoom, a few changes have been made.

Canadian citizenship ceremonies are meaningful, important events in people’s lives, so Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) created new instructions for soon-to-be citizens who are taking their oath online.

IRCC will provide all the details of the citizenship ceremony in an invitation letter. It will include the date, time, Zoom link and log-in instructions.

Even though everything is being done online, you have to be physically in Canada in order to take the Oath of Citizenship. IRCC will ask you to confirm your location before you can participate in the ceremony. If you are not physically in Canada, you may have to do the citizenship ceremony once you are back in the country.

Though there’s no strict dress code IRCC says to dress “respectfully.” Wearing religious or traditional clothing is acceptable, though face coverings may be requested to be removed temporarily for identification purposes. Casual hats are discouraged.

You can sit for the entirety of the ceremony, even when saying the oath, but IRCC asks to choose a quiet room for the Zoom call. They recommend a room free of noise and distractions, and to have a plain background.

Your head and shoulders should be visible, and your hand-held device should be stable.

You’ll need a number of documents such as your permanent residence card, whether it’s expired or not, or your Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR). You will also need two pieces of ID, unless you’re under the age 18. Some people will need their record of landing if they came to Canada before June 28, 2002. IRCC will also send you a form to sign after you have taken the oath.

And of course, you’ll need scissors to cut up your permanent residence card on-screen, since you won’t be needing it anymore.

You also have the option to bring a holy book if you want to use it to swear the Oath of Citizenship.

Canada postponed citizenship ceremonies scheduled for the last two weeks of March following coronavirus closures and switched to holding the events online by April. On Canada Day, July 1, IRCC reported over 1,000 citizenship ceremonies had taken place online since the start of the pandemic.

They even held their annual Canada Day citizenship ceremony online. For the first time ever, 19 participants took the oath at the same time from all over Canada.


Australian citizenship up by 60 per cent this year despite COVID-19 with highest number on record

One has to ask why Australia was able to maintain its citizenship program through virtual ceremonies (60,000) and Canada was not, despite recent ramping up in June and July (about 1,000).

Given that COVID restrictions on larger groups are likely to remain for some time, IRCC needs to continue to ramp up its capacity for online ceremonies even if they are not ideal and less meaningful than in-person events:

More than 200,000 people have pledged their allegiance to Australia and become new citizens in the past 12 months.

In the 2019-20 financial year, 204,817 people were conferred Australian citizenship – a 60 per cent increase on the previous financial year and the highest number on record.

Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge said citizenship was an important part of Australia’s success as a socially cohesive, multicultural nation.

“Becoming an Australian citizen means more than just living and working here – it’s a pledge of allegiance to our nation, our people and our values,” Mr Tudge said.

“When someone becomes a citizen, they make a pledge to uphold Australia’s rights, liberties, laws and democratic values. It represents a willingness to integrate into our successful multicultural nation.”

“Being an Australian citizen is an immense privilege, which brings both rights and responsibilities. I congratulate all those who have taken this important step.”

The Government moved quickly to start online ceremonies when COVID-19 restrictions forced in-person ceremonies to stop, and to date more than 60,000 people have been conferred citizenship this way.

Small in-person ceremonies resumed on 3 June. Online ceremonies will also continue for the foreseeable future for councils unable to host in-person ceremonies in a COVID-safe way.

The Department of Home Affairs has also resumed citizenship interviews and testing, in line with COVID-19 health advice. Small numbers of appointments have begun in Perth and Sydney and more will be rolled out in other locations as soon as possible.

Source: Australian citizenship up by 60 per cent this year despite COVID-19 with highest number on record

Canada tells most international students not to come until travel ban is lifted

Effect on economy will be significant:

International students have been told not to make travel plans to Canada until after Ottawa’s border restrictions are lifted.

In the latest update of its program guidelines, the federal immigration department said Tuesday that international students will not be allowed to enter Canada if they have received a student visa after the country’s border lockdown on March 18.

Even those who have a valid study permit from that date or earlier will be denied entry unless they can prove their travel is “non-discretionary or non-optional.”

“While many Canadian college and university campus locations are closed, classes are generally continuing online. Travel will be deemed discretionary or non-discretionary depending on individual circumstances,” said the advisory.

In 2019, more than 650,000 international students studied in Canada at the post-secondary level. The sector contributed more than $21 billion to the Canadian economy through students’ spending and tuition fees, which are two to three times higher than their domestic peers. The largest cohort of the students usually arrives in the fall.

To ensure Canada remains a competitive destination of choice for international education during the pandemic, the federal government is allowing students to count the time spent pursuing their studies online abroad toward their eligibility for a post-graduation work permit.

If they have submitted a study permit application and if at least half of their program is completed in Canada when the border reopens, they will be eligible for the work permit, which many international students count on as an ultimate pathway for permanent residence.

“The pandemic has had a significant impact on international students and the Canadian institutions and communities that host them. This is why we have implemented a series of measures to support them,” Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said earlier.

“We value the contribution of young people seeking a high-quality education in Canada, and we’re making every effort to minimize how current challenges affect their plans and dreams for the future.”

Despite the special COVID-19 measures, international students have complained that schools still require the same hefty tuition fees for online programs, which present other challenges regarding time-zone differences. Some students may have to stay up for their class in the wee hours from their home countries.

Sarom Rho, a migrant student worker organizer, said Ottawa has been tone-deaf to the needs of international students, who have been asking for a tuition freeze and work permit extension, among other things that could help them through the pandemic.

“International students are disappointed with these announcements,” said Rho of Migrant Students United. “The government’s response is geared towards maintaining international enrolment and fees as a source of revenue to keep schools operating. It’s disavowing its responsibility to the quality of education for these students.”

According to the immigration department’s updated guidelines, border agents have the final say in admitting arriving students.

Students must prove their presence in Canada is necessary for their continued participation in their program, such as in labs and workshops, or prove that pursuing online studies is not an option for their school or program or not possible from their home country, for example, due to internet restrictions or bandwidth limitation.

Like all travellers, international students who enter Canada must undergo the necessary health checks and self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

Some universities and colleges have issued support letters to incoming international students advising them to take extra precautions before travelling to Canada because students are responsible for the costs of returning to their home countries.

At the University of Saskatchewan, for example, students are recommended to provide border agents support letters from the administration saying that “your studies cannot be completed online and you are expected to to start on-site.”

Trump administration rescinds rule barring foreign students from taking all classes online

A rare but welcome reversal of the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies:

Facing eight federal lawsuits and opposition from hundreds of universities, the Trump administration on Tuesday rescinded a rule that would have required international students to transfer or leave the country if their schools held classes entirely online because of the pandemic.

The decision was announced at the start of a hearing in a federal lawsuit in Boston brought by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs said federal immigration authorities agreed to pull the July 6 directive and “return to the status quo.”

A lawyer representing the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said only that the judge’s characterization was correct.

The announcement brings relief to thousands of foreign students who had been at risk of being deported from the country, along with hundreds of universities that were scrambling to reassess their plans for the fall in light of the policy.

Under the policy, international students in the U.S. would have been forbidden from taking all their courses online this fall. New visas would not have been issued to students at schools planning to provide all classes online, which includes Harvard. Students already in the U.S. would have faced deportation if they didn’t transfer schools or leave the country voluntarily.

Immigration officials issued the policy last week, reversing earlier guidance from March 13 telling colleges that limits around online education would be suspended during the pandemic. University leaders believed the rule was part of President Donald Trump’s effort to pressure the nation’s schools and colleges to reopen this fall even as new virus cases rise.

The policy drew sharp backlash from higher education institutions, with more than 200 signing court briefs supporting the challenge by Harvard and MIT. Colleges said the policy would put students’ safety at risk and hurt schools financially. Many schools rely on tuition from international students, and some stood to lose millions of dollars in revenue if the rule had taken hold.

Harvard and MIT were the first to contest the policy, but at least seven other federal suits had been filed by universities and states opposing the rule.

Harvard and MIT argued that immigration officials violated procedural rules by issuing the guidance without justification and without allowing the public to respond. They also argued that the policy contradicted ICE’s March 13 directive telling schools that existing limits on online education would be suspended “for the duration of the emergency.”

The suit noted that Trump’s national emergency declaration has not been rescinded and that virus cases are spiking in some regions.

Immigration officials, however, argued that they told colleges all along that any guidance prompted by the pandemic was subject to change. They said the rule was consistent with existing law barring international students from taking classes entirely online. Federal officials said they were providing leniency by allowing students to keep their visas even if they study online from abroad.

Source: Trump administration rescinds rule barring foreign students from taking all classes online