Long-Term Permanent Residents Show Lower Success Rates on Citizenship Test

New statistics released by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) indicate that for permanent residents, spending more time in Canada could put them at a disadvantage in becoming a Canadian citizen.

A CIC internal department memo obtained through an Access to Information request indicated a new trend whereby the longer an immigrant is in Canada as a permanent resident, the more likely it is that they will fail their citizenship test.  The memo stated that permanent residents who have been in Canada for less than 5 years have a significantly higher chance of passing the Canadian citizenship test than their counterparts who have been residing in Canada for more than 5 years.  While immigrants who apply for Canadian citizenship in their first five years of permanent residency have a pass rate of above 83% on the citizenship test, those who take the citizenship test after having lived in Canada for more than 5 years have a pass rate in the low 70s.

The CIC memo did not propose any explanation for this significant difference in citizenship test passage rates, leaving the reason up to interpretation.  The difference in the rates of success on the citizenship test could be explained by the levels of confidence and complacency of the permanent residents, which are likely affected by the length of time a person is in Canada.

For example, living in Canada for longer period of time could give an individual the impression that they have absorbed enough knowledge about Canadian culture to be able to pass the citizenship test with little or no studying.  If a person has been in Canada for more than five years and has developed a strong Canadian identity, the same conclusion about feeling knowledgeable enough to ignore studying could apply.  The issue with this conclusion is that the Citizenship Test requires knowledge about a number of aspects of Canadian history, symbolism and customs that a permanent resident would not necessarily encounter in day-to-day life.  While a permanent resident could likely name the Prime Minister of Canada and the Opposition Leader or the basic responsibilities of a Canadian citizen with little effort, details of Canada’s history and confederation cannot be absorbed by simply watching the news.  Many of the historical topics addressed in the Citizenship Test will require studying to be familiar with.  In fact, many Canadians by birth would be unable to pass this test!  By assuming that living in Canada and absorbing information about Canadian customs is sufficient for passing the citizenship test, test takers are limiting themselves and missing an entire subset of questions about Canadian history that could push their score over the edge and ensure they pass the test.

In contrast, permanent residents who have been in Canada for a shorter period of time who have had less time to absorb knowledge about Canada or develop their Canadian identity may feel less prepared for the test, increasing their motivation to study.  Taking the citizenship test after fewer than five years in Canada also indicates a stronger motivation to become Canadian, which would likely push a permanent resident to study harder.

The new information about the failure rates associated with the citizenship test comes on the heels of reforms to Canadian immigration procedures and changes to the citizenship test itself, which have had an effect on the passage rates of the citizenship test.  The citizenship test was revamped and made more difficult during 2012, and the result was an increase in the number of permanent residents failing the test.  When news of the growing number of failures broke, Jason Kenney, then-Minister of Citizenship and Immigration noted that “the Government of Canada remains committed to maintaining Canada’s tradition of high numbers of permanent residents taking up full citizenship, and this is one of many recent improvements that have been made to the citizenship process to ensure the timely welcoming of new citizens.”

Of course, the passage rates of the test likely have more to do with the motivation to study than anything else, and regardless of the fact that the Citizenship Test was made more difficult in 2012, all of the content on the test is laid out in an online study guide for test takers to ensure they are prepared.  A spokesperson for Jason Kenney at the time of the criticism of the changes to the test said that “the citizenship test assesses how well applicants understand Canadian values and what it means to be Canadian. The test questions are based on the content in the new study guide, Discover Canada, including a broader focus on Canada’s history, identity and values. Our aim is for new citizens to learn and understand the concepts presented in this guide.”  The guide, which outlines topics including Canada’s history, economy, election procedures, justice system, and symbols, is an exhaustive resources for test takers, and thorough studying of the guide should ensure that a person has the requisite knowledge to pass the Citizenship Test with flying colours, regardless of how long the person has been living in Canada.

While all of the content for the individual questions on the citizenship test does come from the aforementioned study guide, there have been accusations of test questions being worded in a convoluted manner, making failure of the test more likely.  To maintain the integrity of the test the questions cannot be released to the public, making it all the more difficult to confirm if the wording of the questions is problematic.  Of course, it is impossible to tell the intention of the Canadian government in making the test more difficult, although many have suggested ulterior motives.  Despite this bothersome assertion, this fact, if true, fails to explain the difference in test success for permanent residents who have been in Canada for different periods of time.

The only explanation posited thus far in all of the media coverage about the two passage rates that manages to hold ground is the argument that focuses on the mindset of the permanent resident after being in Canada for a longer period of time.  Permanent residents taking the Canadian citizenship test should make use of the valuable study guides and practice test available to them.  Studying in advance of the citizenship test, regardless of how long the person has been in Canada, provides the greatest likelihood of success.

FWCanada is a Montreal-based immigration law firm that provides professional legal services on Canadian immigration. For more tips and updates on Canadian immigration follow FWCanada on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.

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