Dual Citizenship: Have Your Cake and Eat It Too?

By Sabine Ehgoetz

Our lifestyles columnist takes a break from the usual humorous lifestyle stories to share her research on the benefits and drawbacks of dual citizenship. Although, as an expectant mother of twin boys, perhaps she is in an ideal position to discuss “dual citizenship” of a different nature.

Here’s the magic number: if you have lived in Canada as a permanent resident for 1,095 days or longer, you can apply to become a citizen. After 1,095 days, you can get a passport and the right to vote together with a sense of belonging to this country and knowing that you’ve truly found a new home. On top of that, Canada allows dual or even multiple citizenship which means you don’t necessarily have to give up citizenship in the country where you lived before. Sounds like you can have your cake and eat it too?

There are definitely quite a few advantages to holding citizenship status in more than one country. One benefit is purely emotional – you probably have parents living there and chances are, you still feel connected to the “old” country. But there are many more tangible rewards too, including: increased employment opportunities in two (or even more) nations, the entitlement to social benefits and pensions, the right to own property and unrestricted residency in more than one place. Even if you are happy and content here, you may have children who are born in Canada (and therefore are Canadians by birth ) but who also automatically inherit citizenship in the country of your origin, which gives them the opportunity to live, study and work in a different part of the world when they grow up.

What sounds like the ideal situation for you and your loved ones, in reality comes with quite a few glitches and risks attached, so you need to be well-informed before you and your family decide to apply for Canadian citizenship. First of all, not every country is as liberal as this one when it comes to immigration laws. In many countries you automatically lose your old citizenship status once you decide to become a citizen somewhere else. It is best to check with the government of your homeland that you will, in fact, be able to keep your status there as well. Provided all this has been sorted out, you still have to be very careful, even when you just go there on vacation or to visit friends and relatives. Possessing citizenship in a country does not only come with rights, but also with responsibilities that you may not even be aware of. Countless young men who are born in Canada and obtain Chinese citizenship through their parents, travel back to Asia every year when they graduate from school to explore their family roots. Unfortunately, many of them don’t make it very far – they get arrested at their point of entry and are then forced to fulfill their obligation with the Chinese military.

In sticky situations the local Canadian embassy or consulate may be completely unable to help you or provide refuge even though you can show them your Canadian passport. The general rule is that the law of the country you are in overrules Canadian law if you hold citizenship status there. Naturally, this also counts for laws of taxation, marriage, divorce or child custody, which means that once you are abroad, your family ties that are established here may not even be recognized there. Even when you visit countries apart from those of which you claim citizenship, you could run into annoying and potentially dangerous situations if you decide to travel with two or more different passports. Missing entry or exit stamps in any of them, indeed any questionable document, can make border crossing a very painful, prolonged experience.

All of this doesn’t mean you’d be better off not seeking dual citizenship, but as with anything, asking all the relevant questions and getting well informed in advance can save you a lot of trouble later on. But what do you do once you’ve discussed all those issues with the government of your native country and you still want to go ahead and become a Canadian? If you are over 18 years old, have no criminal records and spent those 1,095 days living in Canada, you can go ahead and apply for citizenship here. It does take a little more than just filling out an application form and paying the fee of $200. You also need to be able to prove that you can communicate in either one of Canada’s official two languages and that you have a basic knowledge of its history, geography and politics. No need to panic, though, if you feel you may still be a little shaky in those fields. Once you apply you will receive a kit that includes a brochure with all the relevant information that you need to study for in most cases, a written exam. The test also includes a short interview with the Citizenship and Immigration Canada staff in which you have to demonstrate that you understand and answer simple questions in English or French.

If you pass all those hurdles successfully, it is finally time to celebrate. You will be invited to a citizenship ceremony where you will swear a formal oath of allegiance and receive a certificate of Canadian citizenship. In case you decided to keep your former citizenship in the country from which you emigrated, you can now proudly call yourself a “dual citizen”. One last important piece of advice, though, if you plan to travel: you should apply for a Canadian passport and always use this wonderful blue/gold document instead of your former passport.

CNM