An explosion in the number of permanent residents obtaining their Canadian citizenship is likely to hit Canada sooner or later this year. There will likely be an increase in citizenship ceremonies once the pandemic fades into memory, says Robert Falconer, a research associate at Calgary University.
Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) data show just how much the coronavirus pandemic has impacted citizenship ceremonies in Canada.
In the first Eleven (11) months of last year, only 107,119 people took the citizenship oath in Canada, a decrease of almost forty-five (45) percent from the 233,397 who became Canadian citizens during the comparable period the last year.
In 2019, a sum total of 250,367 permanent residents became Canadian citizens. Although the number of new Canadian citizens did vary monthly, the average for any given month was about 20,860. That level maintained itself through the end of February.
Then, the realities of the coronavirus pandemic hit Canada hard. Lockdowns went into effect throughout the country, practically shutting down citizenship ceremonies in most places.
In all of Canada, only fourteen (14) people took the citizenship oath in April last year and only sixty-one (61) in May. The numbers started to rise again in June with 1,716 new citizens and built up to a high of 13,819 in September only to drop back to 9,194 in October and a small 3,365 in November.
“On March 14, 2020, in response to the evolving pandemic situation, we called off all citizenship ceremonies, tests and retests until further notice,” says IRCC communications advisor Lauren Sannkey.
“After a period of near-total shutdown, we began holding citizenship ceremonies online, and as of Nov. 30, IRCC has sworn in or affirmed over 45,300 new Canadian citizens in over 8,900 ceremonies.”
On Nov. 26, the IRCC put in place an online platform for taking citizenship test, making Canada the first country in the world to offer citizenship testing online.
During the next few months, Sannkey says the online platform will be tested and only a limited number of individuals invited to take the online test so that the system’s performance can be monitored.
“As long as no major issues are encountered, IRCC was expecting to be able to offer the online citizenship tests to about 5,000 clients by the end 2020 – and preliminary data shows that we exceeded that number,” says Sannkey.
Robert Falconer stated there are a few reasons for the precipitous decrease in the number of people becoming Canadian citizens last year.
Hard times due to job losses and economic uncertainty for many Canadian permanent residents during the pandemic affected the ability of some to pay the fees to become a Canadian citizen, he says.
“If you are out of work or you have been impacted negatively by COVID-19 pandemic, you might say, ‘I’ll wait another year until things get better,’” says Falconer.
“It costs a good amount of money for a family of four to acquire their citizenship.”
Citizenship fees of any kind could add up to about $630 per adult and about $100 for a child. A family of four with two parents could expect to pay about $1,460 to obtain their citizenship.
Since IRCC has said it will likely be waiving those citizenship fees, many permanent residents will be waiting for brighter times before taking the plunge.
Falconer says the government’s decision to move citizenship ceremonies online during the coronavirus pandemic also likely had some permanent residents waiting until they can celebrate this milestone in person with friends and family.
The pandemic, which has forced many business operations to go online, has also likely created delays in the processing of citizenship applications as government employees move from office environments to working from home.
All of this is creating a pent-up demand for citizenship ceremonies that will likely explode once the pandemic fades into memory.
“There’ll be an explosion in citizenship ceremonies for a couple of reasons,” says Falconer. “People are waiting until they can do it in person and, on the government side, it’s taking longer to process the applications.
“We’ll see some resumption over the summer, especially if they allow outdoor ceremonies.”
The immigration and refugee issues researcher is expecting the explosion in citizenship numbers to come late this year or early next year.
The pent-up demand from this year added to the regular volume of a normal year, could see roughly 30,000 new Canadian citizens per month in 2022. That number of citizenship applications might be difficult for the IRCC to process with its current staffing levels.
“The IRCC is one of the most under-staffed government institutions in Canada,” says Falconer.
Immigrants need to have lived in Canada for three years to qualify for citizenship. The sharp downturn in immigration caused by border restrictions due to COVID-19 is not affecting citizenship numbers yet since these people are already in Canada.
But the anomalous immigration pattern last year and so far this year due to the pandemic is likely to cause fluctuations in the number of people applying for citizenship in three years.
“You’ll see a brief drop followed by an equivalent spike later on,” says Falconer.
As Canadian immigration officials work with the new online tests for citizenship, an important aspect is the verification of applicants’ identities, which is important to the integrity of the program.
“Measures are place to confirm each applicant’s identity by capturing a photo of their ID, their face and by taking static photos (non-biometric) during the test,” says Sankey.