International students and recent graduates hoping to become Canadian citizens should think very carefully about taking extended holidays or work terms outside the country.

The Canadian government is pushing through a new law that helps students meet the residency requirement for citizenship, but it’s harder to use than it might seem.

There are three common ways to live in Canada legally: temporary residents are in Canada with a study or work permit and must leave when it expires; permanent residents have the right to live in Canada indefinitely and work wherever they wish; citizens carry a Canadian passport, can vote in Canadian elections and have all the rights of someone who was born in Canada.

The new law will let you apply for citizenship if you have lived in Canada for three of the last five years. But first you must become a permanent resident, and you must be a permanent resident for at least two years before you become a citizen.

The big bonus is a clause that allows students and other temporary residents to count 50 per cent of their time in Canada when calculating the residency requirements for citizenship. In other words, for every two days that you are in Canada with a Study Permit or a Post-Graduation Work Permit, you get one day of residency credit. Under the old law, students couldn’t count any study time in Canada toward the requirements for citizenship.

Here are key things to remember about this change:

  • You need two years in Canada as a student or temporary worker to qualify for one year of residency.
  • The calculations are based on how many days you were physically in the country, so for every two-week holiday outside Canada, you lose one week of residency credits.
  • The maximum credit you can get for residency as a student or recent graduate is one year, no matter how many years you studied here.
  • You must be a permanent resident for two years before you can use the one year of residency credit you earned as a student.
  • Only time spent in Canada in the last five years will count when applying for citizenship. Since you must have been a permanent resident for at least two of those years, only your last three years as a student or temporary worker will be relevant to your application.

So, if you studied in Canada for six years and then went home for a long holiday to celebrate your accomplishment, that holiday might end up delaying your citizenship application. The new law has passed the House of Commons and is under consideration by the Senate. In other words, the new law isn’t law yet, but it will be soon.

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