The immigration department is resuming citizenship tests that were put on hold more than eight months ago due to the global pandemic, with safeguards in place to ensure proper identification of those taking the tests online.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is launching a new virtual platform today for the citizenship tests, which will be offered online to a small group at first – the roughly 5,000 people who had dates scheduled before the pandemic that were subsequently cancelled, and other priority cases.

IRCC said the platform will be tested over the next few months and more people will be invited to use it — likely early in the new year — after performance monitoring proves it works reliably.

Before beginning the test, participants will be asked to confirm their identity through personal information, and they will have to take a photo of themselves and their ID documents with a webcam before the test can begin.

The system will take photos of participants during the test — a process that has been used to ensure the integrity of other tests that moved online due to the pandemic, such as bar exams or law school admissions tests.

The format of the online test will be the same as the in-person test, with 20 questions and 30 minutes to complete them. 

IRCC said in an online notice that people do not need to reach out to the department — those invited to take the online test will be notified by email.

People can also wait to take the test in-person, but no date has been set yet for resuming that process. 

IRCC cancelled all citizenship tests, re-tests, hearings and interviews on March 14 due to the pandemic. Citizenship ceremonies were also halted at that time but have resumed since as virtual events.

Before COVID-19 struck, a citizenship modernization program was in the works that included plans for online tests.

Today’s development likely will come as welcome news to thousands of newcomers whose lives were in limbo because of the suspension.

All citizenship applicants aged 18 to 54 must pass the test to become Canadian citizens. Citizenship allows a newcomer the right to vote and obtain a passport, and also gives many a sense of security and permanence.

Many argued that if schools and universities can operate virtually, citizenship tests should be offered online as well. But some lawyers have warned that an online process could allow people to cheat the system.

IRCC says people can take the test whenever it’s convenient for them, while offering the test online will help to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by limiting in-person gatherings.

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