The Advantages of Canadian Citizenship

Approximately 250,000 immigrants land in Canada each year. Most, although not all, of these new permanent residents come here intending to make Canada their new home. And in the years after landing, many immigrants apply to become Canadian citizens.

Last year, the issue of dual citizenship became somewhat controversial in light of the Canadian government’s evacuation of some 15,000 Lebanese-Canadians from Lebanon during the Israeli bombing campaign. Although at the time the Conservative government promised to study the issue, it has not been widely debated since then.

According to one recent study by Jack Jedwab of the Association for Canadian Studies, dual citizens do not display any less attachment to Canada than non-dual Canadian citizens. Mr. Jedwab’s study found that about 80% of dual citizens said they feel a “strong” or “very strong sense” of belonging to Canada, while about 84% of those with only Canadian citizenship professed similar levels of attachment.

Applying for citizenship is entirely optional for a permanent resident. It is a personal decision that each immigrant to Canada has the ability to make after having resided in Canada for the necessary period of time to qualify for citizenship (at least 3 out of the 4 years prior to submitting a citizenship application).

So it is worth asking the question of what is to be gained by becoming a Canadian citizen. Certainly, in some cases, an immigrant has to first consider what he or she might be giving up by obtaining Canadian citizenship, especially if they are coming from a country that doesn’t recognize dual citizenship like China or Japan. And it is also important to make the decision to apply for citizenship based on the right motivations. It is not something that should be done lightly or solely as a matter of convenience.

But assuming one is committed to applying for Canadian citizenship because of a genuine desire to obtain full legal and political membership in one’s new country of residence and a true sense of belonging to Canada, what are the practical advantages of that new legal status?

Well, for starters, it is truly permanent. Unlike permanent resident status — which is contingent on continued residence in Canada (at least 2 years out of every 5 year period) and can be taken away if an immigrant is convicted of serious crimes — citizenship, once granted, is permanent and cannot be taken away except in the most extraordinary legal circumstances (usually involving fraud or misrepresentation in the process of obtaining citizenship). Therefore, like the Lebanese-Canadians who called on Canada’s protection last year, Canadian citizens can reside abroad for as many years as they like and still return to Canada as a matter of right at any time.

As well, a citizen is able to exercise their full range of political and civil rights in Canada including voting in elections, running for public office and applying for certain (mostly government) jobs that are restricted to citizens.

Given that Canada is a developed country with a fairly good reputation around the world, Canadian citizens also enjoy exemptions from the need to obtain visas to visit many countries around the world. As well, Canadian citizens enjoy preferred access to the labour markets of the United States and Mexico as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It is easier for a Canadian citizen to obtain employment authorization in the U.S. or Mexico than it is for a permanent resident.

Canadian citizens also benefit from not having to re-establish their legal status in Canada every 5 years if they want to travel abroad as permanent residents must now do with the advent of the Permanent Resident (PR) Card. It is true that a Canadian passport requires renewal every 5 years like a PR Card. However, the difference is you don’t need to demonstrate continued residence in Canada to renew your passport like you do your PR Card.

So there are plenty of practical advantages to Canadian citizenship as long as one is seeking it for the right reasons. What must be kept it mind when making a decision to apply for citizenship is whether there exists a sufficient sense of belonging to Canada that ultimately justifies the application (and given the fact that Canada recognizes dual citizenship, that sense of belonging need not exclude similar sentiments toward another country). Because, in the final analysis, if someone is motivated only by the practical advantages I have outlined and feels no greater attachment to the country, the concept of citizenship becomes devalued for all of us.