Government missed the most important reform in amending citizenship legislation [fees]

Rob Vineberg and I on citizenship fees:

Recent amendments to the Citizenship Act rolled back many of the restrictive provisions introduced by the previous government. These include reducing the residence period to apply for citizenship from four out of the previous six years to three out of five years; allowing half of the time spent in Canada before becoming a permanent resident to count towards the residence period for citizenship; and, removing the provision that allowed dual citizens convicted of treason, spying or terrorism to be stripped of their Canadian citizenship and deported. Now, as before, they will face Canadian justice. In addition, the new legislation replaces the minister or his delegate—in practice, a mid-level official—as the decision-maker in citizenship revocation cases based on misrepresentation or fraud at the time of application. Once again, these cases will be determined by the Federal Court.

The government has, however, overlooked the biggest barrier to citizenship erected by the previous government: cost. Prior to 2014, an applicant for Canadian citizenship paid a $100 fee and adults paid an additional “right of citizenship” fee of $100. Thus, a family of four had to pay $600 for their citizenship applications. However, in February 2014, the previous government increased that fee to $300 and then, in 2015, increased it again to $530 plus the $100 right of citizenship fee for adults. Therefore, since 2015, the cost for a family of four applying for citizenship has soared to $1,460. The government of the time argued that this reflected the costs of processing applications.

In addition, in the Canada Gazette, the government argued, disingenuously or stupidly (take your choice), that “the fee increase will not impact the naturalization rate as the value placed on obtaining citizenship is very high and the benefits associated with obtaining citizenship far outweigh the fee increases. Thus, the number of applications expected per year is not anticipated to fall following an increase in the fees.”

Now anyone who has taken economics 101 knows that price affects demand. So what has happened in reality? In 2015, before the new fees took effect, there were 130,227 applications and 252,187 people received citizenship. However, in 2016, only 92,197 applications were received and 147,791 people received citizenship—a drop of 41 per cent. And in the first six months of 2017, the precipitous drop continued. Only 51,412 were granted citizenship as opposed to 98,418 in the first six months of 2016—a further drop of 48 per cent. So who was right, the previous government or graduates of economics 101? Clearly the outrageous new fees are a huge impediment for newcomers, often struggling to make ends meet.

Some of the reduction in applications is due to other factors. Lengthening residency requirements to four out of six years had a one-time impact as those meeting the previous three year minimum had to delay their applications. Similarly, the extension of language and knowledge testing to applicants aged 55 to 64 (about seven per cent of all applications) meant fewer applications from that age group. However, the greater part of the drop in applications is due to the fees increase.

Now, after two years of the higher fees, the number of applications has recovered slightly but remains far short of the historic average of some 200,000 annually. A further worrying fact is that applications from poorer newcomers, in particular refugees, have declined even more than for other immigrants.

Now you may ask, what difference does this make? It makes a huge difference. The entire Canadian immigration policy is based on the premise that it is a continuum, starting with a person applying overseas and ending with him or her becoming a Canadian citizen. It is critical that newcomers participate fully in Canadian civil society and feel part of civil society. And they cannot do so if they do not become Canadian citizens.

The benefit of newcomers becoming citizens as soon as possible vastly outweighs the government’s need to recover costs of processing. It seems paradoxical at best that’ at the same time the government promotes diversity and inclusion, and increases immigration levels, it retains a major barrier to immigrants wishing to participate fully in Canadian society.

The cost for adults applying for citizenship must be reduced to at most $300, including the $100 right of citizenship fee, and quickly.

via Government missed the most important reform in amending citizenship legislation – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

Canadian expats shouldn’t have unlimited voting rights – Bill C-33 critique

Rob Vineberg, former regional director general for the Prairies and the North at CIC (now IRCC) and I penned this op-ed against the proposed indefinite extension of expat voting rights in C-33 (we will be submitting a brief once the Bill goes to Committee).
This has generating the most comments of any of my articles, virtually all from Canadian expats who disagree with us on Twitter. Useful input as we finalize our brief to the Commons committee that will study the Bill (PROC).
As behind a paywall, full text below:

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould is in charge of shepherding Bill C-33, currently at second reading, through the House.  The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

 By ANDREW GRIFFITH, ROBERT VINEBERG

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017 12:00 AM

In responding to the Supreme Court challenge of the five-year limit of voting rights, the government has proposed in Bill C-33 to extend voting rights indefinitely to Canadians living abroad, no matter how short their residence in Canada.

This is more generous than the standard comparator countries of Australia and New Zealand, which require a formal renewable declaration or visits (six and three years respectively), the United Kingdom, which has a 15-year limit, and the United States, which requires filing of taxes.

In essence, any citizen who left Canada as a baby or small child would have unlimited voting rights. As such, the proposal disconnects voting from any experience living in Canada, being subject to Canadian laws, accessing Canadian public services, as well as paying Canadian taxes, and thus devalues the votes of Canadians who do reside in Canada and are subject to these day-to-day realities of Canadian life.

To date, the government has not articulated why it chose this unlimited approach, apart from resorting to the phrase “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” without acknowledging that this argument was made in the limited context of revocation of citizenship in cases of terrorism, and the need to treat Canadian-born and naturalized Canadians equally before the law.

Advocates of expanding voting rights over the current five years have argued that Canadians living abroad contribute to Canada and the world, and many retain an active connection with Canada, whether it is business, social, cultural, political, or academic. These Canadians’ global connections should be valued as an asset. The internet and social media make it easier for Canadians to remain in touch with Canada and Canadian issues. Non-resident Canadians pay income tax on their Canadian income and property tax on any property they may own in Canada. Their vote is unlikely to affect the overall electoral results.

This is argued using a general estimate of over one million expatriates, without any assessment of the degree of connection that expatriates have with Canada. However, using government data, we know that the number of expatriates holding valid Canadian passports is approximately 630,000 adult Canadians who have lived abroad for five years or more. We also know that the number of non-resident Canadian tax returns, a deeper measure of connection, was about 140,000 in 2013 (the last year for which information is available). And while hard to assess the potential interest of long-term Canadian expatriates in voting, the data for those who qualify under the current rules suggest there is not widespread demand.

While one of us (Griffith) believes in a more restrictive approach and one us (Vineberg) believes in a more flexible approach, we recognize the government is committed to expand voting rights. We see three main options:

  1. Double the current limit to 10 years: This would align with two parliaments as well as passport validity. While it would not address the concerns of all expatriates, it would expand voting rights.
  2. Provide unlimited voting rights to expatriates who have lived 25 years or more in Canada: This recognizes the long-term connection and experience with Canadian life as well as the concerns of expatriate seniors who have contributed to the Canada Pension Plan and receive CPP and Old Age Security benefits.
  3. Modify the proposed approach with a minimum residency requirement of three years: This ensures a minimal connection to Canada, aligned to citizenship requirements, with only a valid Canadian passport being acceptable evidence of citizenship. However, this modified version of the provision in Bill C-33 does not fundamentally change our objection to again essentially unlimited voting rights.

In the latter options, this should be combined with the creation of two overseas constituencies to recognize that expatriate interests are different from resident Canadians and address any concerns that the expatriate vote could influence the results in particular ridings.

Notwithstanding what approach is chosen, administrative simplicity based on the current Elections Canada process should be maintained. Elections Canada should also be required to conduct an evaluation of the impact of any such change following the next election.

The government does not appear to have thought through the implications and options regarding expanding voting rights and appears to have listened only to advocates for expansion rather than a broader range of Canadians. We favour a combination of the first two options and hope that parliamentary review of Bill C-33 will result in changes that respect a balance between expanded expatriate voting rights and the interests of resident Canadians.

Source: Canadian expats shouldn’t have unlimited voting rights – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

25,000 Syrian refugees in four months: How did Canada do it?

Rob Vineberg’s good summary of the mechanics of the Syrian refugee intake, in The Interpreter of Australia’s Lowy Institute for International Policy.

His conclusion is noteworthy:

How did Canada manage to meet such an ambitious goal? Ironically, it was the ambitious goal itself that galvanised the Public Service and the Armed Forces to develop innovative approaches. A smaller goal would have resulted in ‘more of the same’ and disappointing results. As Minister McCallum said: ‘One definition of real change is you’re doing something you’ve never done before.’

Source: 25,000 Syrian refugees in four months: How did Canada do it?