Getting a Canadian passport will become tougher with the federal government proposing stricter conditions for permanent residents.
Under the proposed changes - the first major revamp of the Citizenship Act since the 1970s and tabled in the country's House of Commons last week - permanent residents will have to have a "physical presence" in Canada for four out of six years, compared to the present three out of four years, and pay $300 (Canadian) as citizenship application fee for an adult, against the earlier $100, before applying for a Canadian citizenship.
They will also have to be present in Canada for 183 days each year for at least four of those six years and file income taxes to be eligible for citizenship. The bill expands the age range for those required to demonstrate language proficiency and pass a knowledge test, from the current age of 18-54 to 14-64.
Apart from these proposed changes, Canadian minister of citizenship and immigration Chris Alexander has closed the application process for family reunification till 2015. The Canadian minister feels he is trying to do the right thing. "Citizenship should not be simply a passport of convenience. It is a pledge of mutual responsibility and a shared commitment to values rooted in our history," Alexander told mediapersons here last week. Under other changes to the country's family reunification programme, sponsors will now be required to show income levels that are 30% higher than earlier, and a promise to look after the financial needs of their loved ones for 20 years, instead of the previous 10-year commitment.
This is not going down well with the South Asian population living in Vancouver. "Now, a permanent resident will have to wait for close to seven years to get a Canadian passport," said Hardev Singh, a resident of Surrey, who came to Vancouver two years ago on a permanent residency (PR).
Jinny Sims, a member of the Canadian parliament, criticised the new move: "A month into the year, and the Conservative government has already closed its door on families. While minister Alexander continues to boast that his approach is clearing the backlog, people living in Surrey and Delta are still waiting to hear about applications submitted in 2007." On the reunification programme, he said, "First, they freeze the programme altogether; now it's supposedly open, but to a very small number of applicants, and only the most economically advantaged."
"This personally affects my constituents by the thousands. I, along with my New Democrat colleagues, am fighting hard to make family reunification a top priority for immigration," he added.
"As it is, settling down in Canada is difficult with jobs not available. Your education back home in India is counted for zero here and you have to begin from scratch. At night, people have to do security jobs to make ends meet and top of that, instead of helping new immigrants, the federal government wants to further increase their hardship. Slowly, people will stop applying for Canadian PR. I think that is what the federal government actually wants," said Gurdial Bath, a resident of North Delta who has completed two-and-a-half years in Canada and was actually happy that after six months he will be applying for a Canadian passport. But his wait will now become much longer.