Over and over, I saw common errors that led to delays, or even denials, of citizenship applications. This was disappointing for so many applicants, especially because the immigration process is a long one, and their ultimate goal – belonging to the Canadian family – was almost within reach.
Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to avoid the pitfalls to get you to the coveted status of citizenship (and to acquire the highly regarded little blue passport.)
Some people try to pretend they’re living in Canada when they’re not – they don’t meet the requirements but they want the passport so badly that choose to create the illusion of residence. So they visit Canada, borrow an address of friends or family, submit fraudulent documents, and all the while, use another passport to travel so that they can continue to live and work somewhere else. People who do this can be found by IRCC to have committed a misrepresentation. That carries with it a fine of up to $100,000 or imprisonment for up to five years, or both, and you could be prohibited from applying for citizenship for 5 years. And, if you obtain citizenship and are later found to have committed a misrepresentation, your citizenship can be revoked. So, don’t lie, misconstrue, misrepresent, or omit information.
Estimating the number of days you took outside the country doesn’t count – “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” So, make sure you report every single day. Keep a travel journal, record your trips in your phone, ask for your passport to be stamped, keep your boarding passes. If you’re a real keener, put it in a spreadsheet. The method doesn’t matter—just keep track of every trip. Remember that time when you went to the other side of Niagara Falls and came back to Canada at 10 minutes past midnight the next day that you forgot to declare on your application? That counts as a day, and if you don’t declare it, your application could fail. There’s no wiggle room for discretion on the part of citizenship officers or judges anymore. So be 100% accurate!
Canada’s two official languages are English and French, and those are the languages of the government of Canada. Citizenship officers either won’t be able to read documents in foreign languages, and even if they can, they aren’t official translators and can’t do the translation for you. And they won’t take your word for it, or a relative’s. Translate all stamps, writing, visas and permits, even if they do not fall in the relevant period, for the same reason mentioned above. Citizenship officers don’t know whether dates in other calendars (such as the Hijri Calendar and Arabic writing and numerals) fall within the period or not. Failing to provide these translations may appear as if you are trying to hide something. Being transparent about your travels conforms to the requirements and builds goodwill in citizenship officers and citizenship judges who will be making a decision on your case.
The citizenship law requires applicants between 18-54 to have listening and speaking skills at the Canadian Benchmark Level 4, which can be described as a “basic fluent level.” Some newcomers attend ESL or FSL classes in order to attain that level. And then they stop. That’s a mistake. It’s best to keep studying until you’re well beyond level 4. Even better, keep studying English and French until you pass the Canadian citizenship knowledge of Canada test, because if it looks like you can’t speak English and French when the citizenship officer verifies your documents—even though you have proof that you went to language school and have level 4—you could be given an oral test, and if you can’t have a conversation using basic English and French, your application could be denied.
There’s another reason to keep studying English and French for as long as possible before taking the knowledge of Canada test. The knowledge of Canada test isn’t easy. Applicants with a higher proficiency in Canada’s official languages tend to be more successful on the test. When studying for the test, it’s not enough to just leaf through Discover Canada, the official study guide. The guide is a voluminous compilation of the heritage of Canada, and includes comprehensive information regarding the history and geography of Canada, how our government works, and symbols of Canada. Applicants who take citizenship classes do better than those who don’t, and those who actually read the book (and don’t just take tests online the night before) do best of all.
Each type of citizenship application requires its own set of supporting documents.
It’s important to follow IRCC application instructions and document checklists for each application, otherwise your application will be returned. And while some applications, such as the citizenship application, can be straightforward, a physical presence questionnaire (or a residence questionnaire prior to 2015) is much more demanding. When these questionnaires are issued, it’s up to the applicant to show that he/she has met the physical presence requirement. One utility bill and a handful of banking records simply won’t do. Documentation should cover the entire relevant period, and should support your claims of when you left and entered Canada. This is time consuming but absolutely necessary, otherwise a judge can reject the application for insufficiency of evidence or credibility reasons. It is important to note that the applicant is required to submit all of the supporting documentation necessary to demonstrate the bona fides of his/her request, whether or not it is on the IRCC checklist. The onus is on the applicant to demonstrate that he/she meets the requirements and, thus, should be granted citizenship.
The citizenship process is full of deadlines for the submission of documents or to appear for an interview, hearing or ceremony as requested by IRCC. If an applicant fails to provide additional information or evidence by the specified date, or fails to show for a test, interview, hearing or ceremony without a reasonable excuse, the department has the authority to treat the file as abandoned. So respect the deadlines or risk having to re-apply – and pay the fees again!
In order to respect deadlines, you have to be accessible to IRCC in the first place. Delays and denials regularly happen when applicants forget to tell IRCC of a change of address. As noted above, if you fail to respond to IRCC despite repeated requests, your file may be abandoned.
This is especially important if you are given the dreaded physical presence questionnaire. The IRCC’s rate of return due to incomplete applications has been as high as 30-40 percent at times. Be sure to use the correct form (they’re updated frequently), fill out every box, sign on every dotted line, and include every supporting document (with translations and certifications as required.) Don’t leave gaps in information, either. IRCC officials aren’t mind readers, and can’t fill in the information for you. It’s a good idea to keep a copy of your citizenship application handy so that you can provide similar information should you be required to provide your physical presence questionnaire. That way you can avoid having to reconstruct your address, employment, education or travel history for you and your family members from scratch. Any inconsistency can delay your file, or worse, raise credibility concerns in the officer’s mind that could ultimately require a hearing with a citizenship judge.
Providing income tax filings for the period of residency – 3/5 years – is a requirement of the law…not just for a citizenship application, but for every good citizen.