Posted on - Jun 14, 2016

By Catherine Sas, Q.C.

Catherine Sas Q.C.

I am frequently approached by people who say to me “I want to get my Canadian citizenship – what do I need to do?” To which I reply, “Well, you need to walk before you run”. Which means, you firstly need to become a Permanent Resident of Canada, and then, after several years, you may apply to become a Canadian citizen if you meet all the criteria. Let’s look at the difference between what Permanent Residency and Citizenship entails.

Permanent residence (PR) is the process of becoming a resident of Canada. Many people come to Canada initially with temporary status either as a student or worker and then apply for permanent residence later. Some applicants apply for their PR status directly from abroad. The essential aspect of becoming a PR is that you need to make an application and you need to demonstrate that you meet the criteria of a particular program. Many people obtain their PR status being sponsored by a relative – a spouse, parent, or an adult child. This is done through the Family Class or the Inland Spousal categories and it requires the sponsor to demonstrate the appropriate family relationship and then the applicant meeting all of the requirements of that category. The economic immigration program is for individual applicants and their accompanying family members but it requires the principal applicant to meet the criteria of a specific program such as the Skilled Worker, Canadian Experience Class, Federal Skilled Trades Program, Express Entry, and Self Employed categories or a Provincial Nominee Program. Once an application is processed to completion, the federal government issues you and your family members with a Confirmation of Permanent Resident ( COPR) document which you will present either at the border or at an immigration office in Canada to actually become a PR. A copy of this processed document will be given to you at the time you become a PR and then a few months later you will be sent a Permanent Resident card – also known as a Maple Leaf card. It is important that you keep copies of your PR card and your COPR document and that you save the originals in a safe place as you will need them either to become a Canadian citizen or to renew your PR card.

After becoming a permanent resident, you are able to live here and work and/or study on a full time basis. After living in Canada for several years, you are able to apply for Canadian citizenship. Citizenship entitles you to vote in Canadian elections and also to obtain a Canadian passport. It is possible to lose your permanent resident status if you are convicted of a serious criminal offence or if you fail to meet the residency requirement. Citizenship entitles you to permanent status in Canada and can only be taken away from you if you obtained your citizenship based upon fraudulent information.

What are the residency requirements for PR status versus citizenship? Once you become a permanent resident of Canada, you are required to live in Canada for two years within a five year period. This requires you to be physically present in Canada for 730 days within a 1825 day period. There are a few exceptions to the physical presence test including if you are employed abroad by a Canadian company or you are accompanying your spouse who is either a permanent resident or citizen of Canada. If these exceptions may apply to you it is strongly recommended that you get professional advice to ensure that your circumstances meet the provisions of these exceptions as they can be more complicated than they seem. The 2/5 year residency requirement equates to a 40% annual residency requirement in order to maintain your PR status. You can maintain your PR status in perpetuity so long as you continue to reside in Canada 40% of the time, or more, on a cumulative five year period. There is no requirement to become a citizen of Canada, however as mentioned above, you can lose your PR status in certain situations and you have to apply to renew your PR card every five years.

The residency requirements for citizenship are more onerous. Presently to be eligible to apply for citizenship, you must physically reside in Canada for four years within a six year period – 1460 days within a 2190 day period, which is the equivalent of a 67% residency requirement. However, the new Liberal government has introduced legislation making it easier for people to gain Canadian citizenship and have proposed reducing the residency requirement to three full years of physical presence in Canada within a five year period which drops the necessary time spent in Canada to 60% or more. It is anticipated that this legislation will be passed into law later this summer or in the fall of 2016.

Permanent residence has a lower threshold residency requirement of 40% to maintain, it must be renewed every five years, it can be lost due to criminality or failure to reside in Canada and it does not entitle you to either vote or obtain a Canadian passport. It is the first step towards Canadian citizenship. Once you have resided physically in Canada you may be eligible to apply for Citizenship after several years and upon being granted citizenship you are able to obtain a Canadian passport, vote in Canadian elections and you don’t ever need to re-apply for it!


Catherine Sas, Q.C. is a Vancouver immigration lawyer at Sas & Ing Immigration Law Centre in Vancouver, BC Canada. Catherine has been practicing law for over 25 years, and has been voted Vancouver’s Best Immigration Lawyer by the Georgia Straight newspaper for 6 consecutive years.

To learn more about immigrating to Canada, becoming a permanent Canadian resident or bringing your family to Canada, email Catherine Sas or call her at 1-604-689-5444.

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