OTTAWA — Those who fail the citizenship test will soon get a one-time do-over according to new rules being introduced by the federal government, Postmedia News has learned.
With average wait times for processing citizenship applications about 23 months, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney wants to throw prospective Canadians a bone by giving them two chances to pass the test.
Now, those who fail must appear before a judge, which can result in even longer delays. B.C.-based immigration lawyer Richard Kurland released figures last month that suggested applicants in Montreal and Vancouver were having to wait as long as 29 months for their hearing to be scheduled.
Under the new rules, applicants who fail will be told so immediately and be given the opportunity to schedule a rewrite within four to eight weeks. Those who fail the test a second time, however, will have to get in the queue to be assessed by a citizenship judge. The new rules will be retroactive which means those already in the queue for a meeting will also be invited to take the test again.
The initial $200 citizenship application fee, which could as much as double thanks to a budget promise to increase fees to better reflect the cost of processing, will cover the second test and the assessment with a judge if necessary. Those who fail to convince a judge that they’re worthy of citizenship, however, will have to start the process over and pay again.
Also, the government will now approve family members on their own merit. Before, when one relative failed a knowledge or language test, all those listed on the same application were barred from moving to the next step until everyone could do so at the same time.
“We know that newcomers look forward to acquiring their Canadian citizenship and we are committed to helping qualified applicants acquire this privilege in a timely manner,” Kenney said. “Together, these improvements combined will result in faster processing of citizenship applications.”
Kenney will officially announce the changes on Monday.
He said demand for citizenship has increased by 30 per cent since the Conservatives took office in 2006 and boosted overall immigration levels. About 200,000 permanent residents become citizens each year, he said.
“The government of Canada remains committed to maintaining Canada’s tradition of high numbers of permanent residents taking up full citizenship, and this is one of many recent improvements that have been made to the citizenship process to ensure the timely welcoming of new citizens,” he added.
According to Citizenship and Immigration, the citizenship application backlog stood at 349,249 by the end of last year. In 2011-12, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 13,811 citizenship applicants were referred for a hearing before a judge because they failed their written knowledge test, require a language assessment or were flagged for possible residency fraud.
Landed immigrants are eligible to apply for citizenship after living in Canada for three years. In the latest budget, the government committed to spend $44 million over two years to improve and speed up the processing of citizenship applications. The process, however, has become increasingly cumbersome, in part due to a government crackdown on fraud.
Many applicants are now being asked to fill out sweeping residency questionnaires to prove they’ve indeed resided in Canada, which has delayed the process. Between May and December 2012, the government issued about 22,000 residency questionnaires.
Officials have also raised concerns about test-takers who subsequently sell the answers. A former citizenship judge was also charged recently for allegedly passing the test on to a consultant. The government is now reviewing its files to determine whether the consultant’s clients obtained their citizenship fraudulently.
The half-hour, 20-question, multiple-choice test, which assesses one’s knowledge of Canada, is currently in paper form. While efforts are made to produce them in small batches and to rotate the questions, a computerized test set to come online in a few months is expected to go a long way towards fighting fraud.
Stringent new language requirements and a tough new citizenship test introduced in 2010, that set a pass at 75 per cent instead of 60, are among the other barriers would-be citizens have faced in recent years. Failure rates skyrocketed to 30 per cent from between four and eight per cent when the new test was introduced. The test has since been altered and pass rates now stand at about 80 per cent.
Officials, however, maintain more than 90 per cent of those who apply for citizenship obtain it and that Canada has one of the highest naturalization rates in the world.