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Statistics Canada recently published their citizenship insights from the 2021 census data, which included critical findings about new and future Canadian citizens.
Canada at a glance
The main report on citizenship, “A portrait of citizenship in Canada from the 2021 census,” revealed that the majority (91.2%) of Canada’s population 33.1 million were citizens, either by birth or naturalisation. Citizenship by naturalisation (the path for immigrants) occurs when a former non-Canadian resident of Canada becomes eligible for and receives the legal status of a citizen.
Non-Canadians comprised the remaining 8.8% of the population (either permanent or temporary residents).
Since 1991, the proportion of Canadians who are citizens by birth has decreased, while the proportion of Canadian citizens who are citizens by naturalisation and the number of people in Canada who are not citizens have increased.
Moving from non-Canadian Citizenship
However, the naturalisation rate (the percentage of eligible immigrants who have obtained Canadian citizenship) has fallen from 87.8% in 2011 to 80% in 2021.
This drop in naturalisation rates is a significant concern for the government, and it is likely exaggerated by policy changes that Canada has already implemented. As an example:
- Physical presence requirements for naturalisation increased from three to four years between 2015 and 2017, with no ability for applicants to claim time spent as temporary residents. Following changes to the Citizenship Act in 2017, this requirement was reduced to three years, with applicants once again able to claim time spent in Canada as temporary residents.
- The application fee for a citizenship grant increased in 2015 (it is now $630 CAD). The Liberal government promised in late 2019 to waive these fees in order to reduce the financial burden on lower-income households; while this promise has yet to be fulfilled, it is likely that once fees are waived, more lower-income households will be eligible for naturalisation.
Other impacting variables, such as changes in dual-citizenship policy for immigrant source countries, specific conditions of stay for non-Canadian residents, and the COVID-19 pandemic, are likely contributors to the lowering naturalisation rate that the Canadian government will have to take stock of.
The natural move to citizenship
While the rate of naturalisation has declined in the last ten years, they also show that as time passed in the country, people became more likely to pursue citizenship.
For example, by 2021, 94% of immigrants admitted to Canada prior to 2001 had obtained Canadian citizenship. In comparison, slightly more than half of the immigrants admitted between 2011 and 2015 obtained citizenship.
These findings suggest that as time passes, more and more people from each immigrant cohort pursue and/or become eligible for Canadian citizenship.
The need for non-citizens
One of the study’s key findings was that, while Canadian citizens had a median age of 41.2 years, non-Canadian citizens living in Canada (temporary or permanent residents) had a median age of 33.6 years.
This is a critical discovery that is consistent with Canada’s immigration goals, as the country will look to address labour shortages and market needs through immigration in the face of an ageing population and low birth rate.
In this regard, having immigrants of prime working age who may eventually become permanent residents and citizens is critical to Canada’s social and economic health, particularly in light of record job vacancies and retirements.
Where will the Canadians of tomorrow hail from?
- The most common reported citizenship among both permanent and temporary residents was Indian, accounting for more than a quarter of all temporary residents.
- Approximately one out of every ten permanent and temporary residents claimed Chinese citizenship, with the Philippines close behind in terms of permanent residents.
- French was the third most common nationality among non-permanent residents.
These findings demonstrate that Asia will continue to be a major source region for not only immigrants but also future Canadian citizens.
Furthermore, the growing number of non-permanent residents who are French aligns with both the Quebec and federal governments’ policy goals of increasing Francophone immigration across Canada.
The gradual reduction of the naturalisation rate will likely be a focal point for the federal government and Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) moving forward, especially given that the median age of non-Canadians in Canada is within prime working ages.
Having said that, Canada’s high quality of life continues to ensure strong rates of immigration and immigrant retention, which means that even if the naturalisation rate is low, Canada will continue to have high rates of new immigrants and permanent residents every year (as evidenced by targets within the new Immigration Levels Plan).