Monday, August 31, 2009

Canadian Immigration: Part III

(This is a series of posts detailing my personal journey from work permit to Canadian citizenship. I've included as many details as I can remember. If you found this post using an internet search for Canadian immigration, or if you are a regular reader who is interested in moving to Canada, please bear in mind that things may have changed since I went through the system, and your situation may be completely different from my own. Please consult the Canadian government's website for more information.)

See also:
Part I: the wilderness work permit years
Part II: resident, permanently

Part III: Citizen Cath

Many of my family and friends were astonished to learn that marrying Mr E Man didn't get me automatic Canadian citizenship. In fact, as an existing permanent resident, obtaining a Canadian husband made absolutely no difference at all to my immigration status or timelines. As I mentioned in Part II, marriage (straight, gay, or common law) to a citizen does get non-permanent residents optional access to a faster and cheaper "sponsored" PR application process, but that's it; all PRs who wish to become a citizen apply through the same process, and are subject to the same rules.

As soon as I decided to stay in Canada permanently, I knew I wanted to eventually become a citizen. First and foremost because I love this country and want to be a fully contributing member of its society. That means that I want to vote out the right wing bastards who ru(i)n this country AND this province. People fought long and hard for my right to vote, a right which is sadly granted to so few of the people who live (and have ever lived) on this planet. Besides, if you don't vote, you don't (or at least shouldn't) get to complain about the government... I've voted in every British election for which I've been old enough and resident in the country* - general, local, Scottish, and European parliament elections - and have been incredibly frustrated at not having a say during my seven (and a half) years in Canada.

So that was my primary motivation, but there were others too. For example, I've always wanted a second passport; not only do I now get to avoid the old fingerprint/photograph/interrogation routine that I used to go through at the US border, it's also really fucking cool. A recent rule change was another factor; PR cards are now required in order to enter the country, and the card has to be renewed every five years**, via the same rather frustrating process by which I replaced my stolen card after my honeymoon. So you really may as well apply for citizenship, and just renew your passport instead.
I also get to legitimately support a second team during the Olympics and other sporting events (-> more medals! w00t!).

This is not a decision that everyone can make so easily; the Canadian government allows dual citizenship, but some countries do not. This means that some immigrants have to give up their original citizenship upon becoming Canadian. Luckily for me, the British government basically says "do what you want". If I'd had to choose, I probably wouldn't have given up my British nationality.

Enough of the rationale, what about the methods?

(Yes, it's grant time again).

Permanent residence is the hard part. Once that's in the bag, it's really quite easy to become a citizen. You have to be physically in Canada as a permanent resident for "at least three years (1,095 days) in the past four years before applying". Every day that you spend out of the country counts against you, and has to be accounted for (I used the stamps in my passport and emails I'd sent to my Mum*** to work this out - the single most important piece of advice I can give to an aspiring citizen is to keep excellent records of your travel during this period). You can count time spent in Canada as a non-permanent resident (i.e. on a work permit), but one day with this status only gets you half a day of residency credit, and you can only claim a maximum of one year.

I used the online calculator to pinpoint the exact day on which I would become eligible to apply for citizenship, and completed as much of the paperwork as I could ahead of time. Unlike the behemoth of the PR application package, which took several months to assemble, the citizenship application form is just five pages long. (It's also MUCH cheaper to apply for citizenship than for PR status). I also needed to send photos, and photocopies of my passport, PR documents, marriage certificate, and BC healthcare card. I completed the process, appropriately enough, on Canada Day 2008.

The next step in the process was, of course, the infamous citizenship test. In late 2008 I received the study guide and my test date (8:15am on the day after my birthday, boooooooo). I promptly launched into intensive study put the study guide on a shelf and forgot about it. Massimo and others who'd already taken the test had assured me that it was a piece of cake, no problem at all.

So, when I did crack open the study guide, a couple of weeks before my test, the level of detail took me by surprise. I read through the guide a few times, and then took an (unofficial) online practice test.****

And failed.

I just wasn't prepared for questions about the metals mined from the Canadian shield, or the major industries of Saskatchewan.

Luckily, an email (or two, or three) from Massimo helped to calm me down, as he assured me that the actual test questions would be much easier; more a test of language ability than of knowledge.

And so it proved to be! The test consists of 20 multiple choice questions. You have to get 12 right in total, and you also have to correctly answer two of the three most important questions (the ones about how to vote). There was only one question that I wouldn't have known the answer to without studying, and that one I could probably have guessed. I definitely don't want to put anyone off studying, because it's an interesting and worthwhile thing to do in its own right. And, of course, I benefited greatly from the extensive similarities between the British and Canadian political systems. But really, anyone who pays any attention at all to the news should do OK.

After the test, immigration officials checked the original copies of the documents we'd photocopied and sent in with our applications, and briefly chatted with each person to ensure that we all spoke sufficient English or French. Some people were handed special envelopes and walked out looking perturbed, but I wasn't one of those people, so I can't tell you what that was all about. A few of us speculated that some people were being referred for an additional language test, but I really don't know for sure.

About three months later, I got notification that I'd passed the test. Oh happy day! I was also given my ceremony date; as with the test itself, you're assigned a date and time, and have to apply for permission to change it. I think you can only miss one assigned test date before you get kicked out of the system and have to reapply; if you miss more than one assigned ceremony date, I think you have to appear in front of a citizenship judge in order to be granted citizenship. But luckily this wasn't an issue for me, as I was available on both dates.

You already know all about my ceremony, which was very pleasant and only slightly awkward (luckily no-one else sang the anthem in tune either). And that brings us to the end of my (mostly) smooth dealings with Citizenship and Immigration Canada!

So long, and thanks for all the fish memories!

Wait, what's that?

You want examples of easy-peasy test questions?

*Sigh*. So demanding.

But, OK.

My favourite question was the first one (on my version - there were at least six different versions distributed around the room, probably to prevent copying). One of the immigration agents gave a short presentation at the beginning of the test, and started off by asking if anyone required the test booklet in French, or if English was OK. The slides he used were in English and French.

Question #1: "What are the two official languages of Canada?"

Apparently, another version asked for the name of the head of state... in a room with a portrait of the Queen proudly displayed on the wall.

Other answer options included "recycling newspapers" as the primary responsibility of Canadian citizens, and "call the police" as the appropriate response to not receiving your voter registration card within a week of an election.

But to see some other examples, you're just gonna have to take the test yourself!


*I can still vote in the UK as an ex-pat, but I don't think that's right. Especially as I'm a lefty, and therefore likely to vote for tax increases that I wouldn't actually have to pay.

**PR status is still (as the name suggests) permanent, as it always was. But the new cards are not, so if you ever want to leave the country (and get back in), you really need to renew your card. This rule change has finally prompted my mother-in-law to apply for citizenship; I helped her with her application not long after I submitted mine, and discovered that she became a PR in 1960! As my Dad said to her, "well, you don't want to rush into anything". NB she doesn't have to take the test, as she's over the upper age limit, but this does delay her ceremony by a few months.

***She insists on knowing the dates, times, and flight numbers for all my trips, even if I'm not going to the UK. She's a very nervous flyer and has never quite got used to the fact that I fly a couple of times a year.

****There are a few of them out there, but I'm not going to link to them because the bastards freaked me out.


  1. Glad you survived all that, but, they made you wait 3 months for the test results? US first does your background checks (which can take some time - mine was apparently "fast" at 6 months), so by the time you walk in to the test, you know that is all taken care off. Then I was told I passed my test on the spot, and had the ceremony 3 weeks later. Voila!

    I am still sad I had to give up my Ukrainian citizenship. It is so nice you get to keep both and don't get forced to decide!

  2. That's so great that you get to keep both. I have a feeling if we move to the US that won't be an option - not sure what I'd do in that case.

    Congrats again for getting through it all with (relatively) little anguish!

  3. SG, yeah, the wheels turn sloooooowly. It's one of those machine-readable tests too, where you fill in the circles with a particular kind of pencil, so I have no idea why it took so long. I actually think they sent the tests off to a central location or something, as they were packing lots of paper into boxes when I walked back past the test room on my way out. It's probably all about keeping civil servants employed!

    Yes, I was very lucky not to have to choose between British and Canadian citizenship. That would have been a really tough one. I wonder though if the American rules might change in the future? I know that US citizens never used to be able to become a dual citizen when they moved to Canada, but that the rules changed a couple of years ago (my former PI applied for Canadian citizenship on the day the rule changed!). So far it's just for US-Canadian citizenship, but if they changed that rule, they might change others in the future, and it might be possible to resume your Ukrainian citizenship at that time.

    Alyssa, I don't know if the change I mentioned above goes both ways, but it's possible that it does. But I know Canadians can work in the US long-term without becoming citizens... if you don't mind not voting!

    Thanks for the congrats! Really, if I hadn't had my PR card stolen, it would have been pretty smooth sailing (oh, except for the time they lost my medical results - see Part II).

  4. I don't vote in UK elections, even though (AFAIK), I can vote in general elections. It doesn't seem right to vote in a constituency I haven't visited for >10 years.

    I do vote in Finland when I'm allowed to.

    But what I really want to know is... what is the primary responsibility of Canadian citizens?

  5. That's the other thing - I'm still registered in my last place of residence (i.e. Glasgow). While I love the place, I don't feel a great sense of connection any more, most of the friends I had there having moved on. If I was still registered in my parents' constituency, I might feel differently... at least in some elections!

    The possible answers to your question are as follows, answers on a postcard please:

    a) club seals
    b) cut down trees, wear high heels, suspendies and a bra
    c) apologise at all times (except to seals)
    d) fail to elect a majority government, despite trying at least once a year
    e) HOCKEY FIGHT!!!

  6. duh, it's HOCKEY FIGHT!! WOHOHOHO! I can become Canadian!! :)

    ehh.... anyway,the process of becoming another citizen is interesting. Someone over here in the deep south of US stated to me the other week "once you have the permanent resicdency it is a piece of cake for you to become truly an American". I dunno.... at the moment I am pretty happy being a non American (although I do bitch about the whole being an immigrant). I would be able to be dual though. And your thing with two passports does sound quite intriguing. I have heard worse excuses to become citizen ;)

    For the moment, I am not sure I would be able to vote in my constituency since it feels like "right or SUPERright".... south US... and I am on the fence voting for parliament in my old country next time it comes up but... we'll see.

    btw, what's the colours of the passports? And is there anything on the outside of the front?

  7. The Canadian anthem has a very strange melody I think. I was never able to remember it. I used to think that would be the test: sing the anthem in English and in French ...

    oh and to explain my high score in the test: I thought it was mostly explained by my PhD, and yes I also exaggerated a bit my French (although I think it is not fair of them to ask for French, when Quebecois is a whole different language ...I took Science-French with 3 Canadian girls and they spoke something more similar to arabic). And of course I have a relative living in Canada, that also earned me points (under adaptability!)

  8. Chall, come on up, don't forget your mouthguard!

    Citizenship is a great thing to have, and if you can be a dual citizen, then really, why not?! It does make life easier, and it's nice to know they can't ever kick you out (not that I'm planning any crimes or anything, but, ya know).

    The Canadian passport is dark blue with a gold coat of arms. It's nice.

    Nina, the anthem is so familiar to me now that it's hard to remember my first impressions, but I think it did take me a while (3 or 4 live hockey games) to get it memorised! It doesn't help that sometimes the signer switches into French halfway through... you're not alone in being confused though, several US stadium anthem-singers have messed up spectacularly at hockey games, which always makes the news!

    My parents are both retired languages teachers, and both fluent in French - but they struggle with Quebecois French (the speed, vocabulary and accent). But French French would be understood in Quebec at least! I wasn't able to claim any points for having relatives here - my Aunt and Uncle did spend a few years near Toronto, but they'd already gone back to the US by the time I moved here.

  9. Wow! what an interesting journey. Thanks for sharing. Indeed, this part seemed much easier than part II. I was tired just reading that entry. ;) Congrats again.

  10. Heh! Sorry dude. Maybe the fact that the story was spread out over several years made it less tiring?

  11. I love the picture of you in front of the immigration sign! It looks like you are personally welcoming everyone into Canada, kind of like "Liberty" in the NY harbor. :)

  12. Hee hee! My original intention with the photo was "later, suckers", but I like your interpretation too!

  13. This series of posts was great! Thanks for sharing your story.

    It is more likely for EGM and I to stay in the U.S. than to move to Far Off Land. I wonder what kind of experience we'll have getting him a Green Card. I looked into it the other day, thinking that we might try to get the ball rolling, but it appears I need to have a job. Whatev.

  14. Thank you, and ou're welcome!

    Is EGM on a student work permit right now? He must have been there a good few years, right? It's frustrating that it takes so long... good luck with the future application!

  15. Thank you for the useful information. Going to write my citizenship test this month. I AM SO NERVOUS!!!! MY!!!!!!! MY!!!!!!
    The change the study guide to 'Dicover Canada'.
    Any good advices?

  16. Just read the guide through a few times, and concentrate really hard on the section about how to vote. Good luck!

  17. Thank you so much. I had my test, finally. It's based on the new guide book called 'Discover Canada'. It wasn't easy!
    Hopefully will get the invitation for the Citizenship Ceremony SOON!!!! Fingers crossed!
    How long did you wait to receive the invitation?

  18. Hmmm - a couple of months, I think? Ish. Good luck!


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