The longer an immigrant is in Canada, the more likely they are to fail their citizenship test, a government report says.
According to the internal Immigration Department report, applicants who have been in Canada fewer than five years consistently have the highest success rates on the mandatory knowledge test, compared to counterparts who have been here much longer.
The findings fly in the face of the Conservative government, which in February tabled a series of sweeping citizenship changes, including raising the required length of residency to four out of six years from the current three out of four.
“The most interesting thing about this is the longer you’re in Canada, the less likely you were to pass the citizenship test,” said Vancouver immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens, who obtained the report under an Access to Information request.
“Does passing the test make you more Canadian? Or is it the amount of time spent in Canada that makes you more Canadian? You could be a good Canadian but not a strong history major.”
Based on two immigration databases, the report, marked “confidential,” said the pass rates of the citizenship exam dropped significantly from 83 per cent in 2011 to 72.6 per cent in 2012, after the government introduced new test questions and raised the pass mark from 60 per cent to 75 per cent.
More than 80 per cent of immigrants applied for citizenship within the first five years of permanent residency and the group had a pass rate above 83 per cent — compared to the low 70s among those who have been in Canada for at least 10 years.
“That’s the irony,” said Meurrens. “People who want it do it quickly and are more motivated.”
In recent years, Citizenship and Immigration Canada has also raised the bar of the language proficiency requirement for applicants between 18 and 54 by demanding approved language test results, completion of academic studies in English or French, or government language programs.
Critics have raised concerns that the higher language requirement would make citizenship more elusive to immigrants who had been less exposed to English or French.
The report also found immigrants from South Korea and China led the rest of the pack in passing the citizenship test, averaging 90 per cent and 88 per cent respectively.
In contrast, those from Sri Lanka and Vietnam had the lowest pass rates, averaging just 70 per cent and 67 per cent.
While more than half of all citizenship applicants live in Ontario, the province’s pass rate was only around the national average, with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick consistently topping the chart in the high 80s and low 90s.
The number of rejected applicants has also remained consistent, averaging 2,308 per quarter. Flunking the citizenship test accounted for 65 per cent of all refused cases, followed by failing the language requirement (24 per cent) and not meeting the residence obligation (6.6. per cent). The rest were rejected on criminality and security grounds.