Tories propose big changes to immigration system

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

Daniel Proussalidis, National Bureau

, Last Updated: 5:33 PM ET

OTTAWA — Immigrants will have to spend more time in Canada and more of them will be forced to prove they know at least one official language to become Canadian citizens under a new law proposed by the Conservative government.

"Citizenship is not a right. It's a privilege," Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said Thursday in Toronto.

The new Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act would make immigrants spend at least four years out of six in Canada before applying for citizenship, with no credit for earlier time spent in the country, to become a permanent resident.

"Those four years are a demonstration of one's commitment to reside here and to participate as a citizen," Alexander said.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair offered only general criticism of the bill, saying there were "many problems" with it.

The Liberals haven't decided on their overall approach to the bill, but immigration critic John McCallum says he likes the longer residency requirement.

"I do agree with the principle that when a person becomes a citizen of Canada, that person should be a real citizen and not a citizen of convenience," McCallum said.

Right now, immigrants can apply for citizenship after spending at least three of four years in Canada and they get half-credit for years spent in Canada waiting for approval as a permanent resident.

Applicants will also have to show they've filed their income taxes in Canada, disclosing income and property abroad.

Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland says that could present immigrants with a dilemma.

"They need to choose between a passport and a purse," he said.

As well, the bill would require immigrants between the ages of 14 and 64 to pass language tests — a requirement currently limited to adults up to age 54.


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