Posted on - Apr 04, 2017

By Catherine A. Sas, Q.C.

People frequently tell me that they want to obtain Canadian citizenship when what they mean is that they want the ability to be able to live and work in Canada for which they need permanent residence status.  Permanent residency and citizenship are NOT the same thing.  I usually respond to this request for citizenship with the remark ” you need to walk before you run” meaning that you need to first become a permanent resident and afterwards you can become a citizen.  After you obtain permanent residency you must maintain your residency status and you need to renew your Permanent Residence card (PR card) every five years unless you obtain your Canadian citizenship.  Both processes have different residency thresholds.  Let’s see how they differ.

After obtaining permanent residence in Canada a person is required to be physically present in Canada for two years out of every five years.  It is a flexible determination in that you can be out of Canada for three full years, but then you would need to stay in Canada for two full years.  Or you can take the ratio of 2/5 which means that you need to be in Canada 40% of the time on an ongoing basis.   Or you can mix up long periods of time and short periods of time both inside or outside of Canada, so long as you accumulate more than 730 days within the five-year period.   It is advisable to keep track of this on a regular basis and be prepared to apply to renew your PR card a good six months in advance so that your new card arrives before the old card expires.

The residency requirements for Citizenship are much higher.  For many years, you needed to demonstrate three full years of Canadian residency within a five-year period. 3/4 = 75%.  At present the residency requirement is four years of residency within a six-year period. 4/6 = 67%.  The Liberal government has changed this law but not yet brought it into force, reducing the residency requirement to three full years of residency within a five-year period. 3/5 =60%.     You can see that the residency requirements for Citizenship are much higher than for maintaining permanent residence status:  67% versus 40%.

How do you determine residency?  I often ask my clients a skill testing question: ” If you go to the US for a weekend getaway and you leave on Friday afternoon and return on Sunday evening, how many days are you outside of Canada?”  
I get a wide variety of answers.  Some people say three days and others say two.  Very few ever say “only one day” which is the correct answer.  Any part of a day physically spent in Canada is a day of residency in Canada. So, you only count the full days spent outside of Canada as days being non-resident.  How do you prove physical presence in Canada?  That can be more challenging especially for travel in and out of the US which is not always tracked nor are your passports necessarily stamped either going in or out of either country.  Start by keeping in track of all of your travel in and out of the country – keep a journal or mark a specific calendar so that you have an actual record.  Save boarding passes – a receipt for an airline ticket is not considered proof of travel.  Calculate your time in and out of Canada on an annual basis so that you have a contemporary record.

Finally, people often ask what is the difference between permanent residency and citizenship?  Permanent residency entitles you to live, work and study in Canada.  You must maintain your residency status for each five-year period and you need to renew it with a further application for a new PR card.  You can also lose your PR status if you receive a criminal conviction.  Citizenship has a higher residency threshold to obtain but you only apply for it once – there is no need to renew it.  As a citizen, you can obtain a Canadian passport, vote in elections and run for public office.  You do not lose your citizenship if you are convicted of a crime in Canada. And you can remain out of Canada for unlimited periods of time and always have the right to return to Canada.  Citizenship and permanent residency are not the same things, but they both require you to keep track of your time spent physically present in Canada until such time as you become a Canadian citizen.


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