Sunday, February 11, 2007

Welcome, New Canadians!

Canadian passport
So. The United States now requires Canadians to present a valid passport when traveling to (or through) the United States by air. Next year, the requirement will extend to travel by land. Now there's a stupid idea! Require a passport from citizens of your largest trading partner! Way to Go!

The requirement has been on the books for some time. Whether you think it's a stupid requirement or not, it's not a SECRET requirement. People knew about it. Canadians calling the radio talk shows have been complaining bitterly about it for over a year now. Clearly, if you know you're going to travel by air, or you even think you might travel by air, you need to get a passport, and you really should have been on that before January 23, 2007, when the requirement took effect.

Well, apparently that just didn't happen a lot. It's evidently a Canadian tradition, especially when dealing with the government, to wait until exactly when something is due to happen before you start dealing with it. It takes some getting used to.

So thousands of people, aware that the passport requirement would take effect January 23, waited until January 2 to apply for their passports so they could go to Disneyland February 6.

Not surprisingly, the Government of Canada didn't really bring on any extra people in anticipation of the increased demand, so now not only are there more Canadians applying for passports, there is a longer wait for a passport.

Canadian passports cost $87 or $92 for adults, and are good for five years. Canadians find all of that annoying. However, rather than complain to their government about the cost and the validity period, Canadians have chosen to phone into radio talk shows and write letters to the editor complaining that "this is just a cash grab by the Americans." If you understand how that could possibly be true, please drop me a line and explain it to me.

But wait --- there's more! It turns out that in the avalanche of passport applications, there are between 10,000 and 20,000 people who think they are Canadian citizens, but are not. People who were born to Canadians outside of Canada, and who once were citizens, relinquished their citizenship if they didn't complete proper paperwork. The CBC explains:

. . . Many applying for a Canadian passport have been informed their chance to remain a citizen expired years ago because of an obscure provision in the Citizenship Act, a little-known law that applied between 1947 and 1977.

The law states that if you lived outside Canada on your 24th birthday and failed to sign the right form, you automatically lost your citizenship. . .

So under the current rules, these people would typically have to apply to become Landed Immigrants (what we would call "Permanent Residents" in the US), and presumably they would have to explain why they have been in Canada illegally for 30 or 40 years. Would that count against them? It takes around three years to achieve Landed Immigrant status, if indeed it's granted. Then, after another two years or so you can apply for citizenship. Good news. Folks applying for Landed Immigrant status from within Canada are going to have to curtail their out-of-country travel. That should take some of the burden off the Passport office.

But, with somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 of the "Lost Canadians" out there, Citizenship and Immigration announced that they would "fast-track" this process, and allow these folks to apply for a grant of citizenship in "just eight months." I wonder if the Ministry is planning on bringing in extra staff?

So, welcome, New Canadians! I hope that the rest of the federal and provincial governments are onside with continuing to pay your federal pensions and your medical coverage for that eight months or so that you're not really Canadians. I hope your fellow Canadians don't think less of you for "jumping the queue" with this fast-track process. I hope that once you get that shiny new citizenship card you don't have to apply for a new Social Insurance number, or a new drivers license, or change the information on the title to your house. That's not "the Americans" with their hands in your pocket, people. That's the government of your new country, in both official languages. Welcome home.