OTTAWA - Citizenship fraud in Canada may soon carry a penalty of up to 5 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 dollars (97,000 US), Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Thursday.
Under proposed legislation, people applying for citizenship would also be required to be physically present in Canada for three of the four previous years to qualify for citizenship.
The measures are part of sweeping immigration reforms being undertaken to bolster immigration while keeping out undesirables, such as "violent criminals."
“Canadian citizenship is more than a legal status, more than a passport," Kenney said. "We expect citizens to have an ongoing commitment, connection and loyalty to Canada."
Earlier in the week, Kenney unveiled legislation to crack down on corrupt immigration consultants who exploit prospective immigrants.
The proposed bill aimed to strengthen rules governing those who charge a fee for immigration advice, close loopholes exploited by fraudulent consultants and set up a regulatory authority.
The act would also make it a crime for anyone except certified consultants, lawyers or notaries to provide immigration advice for a fee or charge a fee.
Like in most Western nations, Canada's birthrate has slowed in recent decades and massive immigration is needed to keep its numbers up, in order to keep the economy growing.
But in some cases, newcomers have complained they were duped into paying thousands of dollars to consultants who did nothing to help them obtain citizenship.
As well, some migrants were accused of lying in their citizenship application -- for example, about their past involvement in war crimes.
The last census in 2006 found that one in five Canadians (19.8%) was foreign-born, the highest proportion of foreign-born Canadians in 75 years, and second only to Australia (22.2%).
Most recent immigrants (58.3%) now herald from Asia and the Middle East. European migrants, who once accounted for the bulk of newcomers, are now the second-largest group, at 16.1%.
China, India, the Philippines, Pakistan, the United States, South Korea, Romania, Iran, Britain and Colombia, in this order, topped the countries of birth for immigrants from 1981 to 2006.
Last year, a total of 252,124 immigrants came to Canada. More than half were economic migrants, more than one-quarter were family members joining a spouse, parent or child living in Canada, and about 10% were refugees.