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MONTREAL - Ottawa has begun revoking the citizenship of thousands of naturalized Canadians who allegedly pretended to live in the country while really residing overseas, the immigration minister said Monday.
"We have identified up to 3,100 Canadian citizens who may have obtained their citizenship fraudulently and we will pursue revocation for those who have," said Jason Kenney, the country's immigration minister.
"We are taking action to strip citizenship and permanent residence status from people who do not play by the rules and who lie or cheat to become Canadian citizens," Kenney told reporters.
"Most of these individuals are believed to be outside the country and have never really lived here," he added.
To qualify for Canadian citizenship, an applicant must have resided for three of the preceding four years in Canada.
But Kenney said the Canadian government has learned that thousands of applicants lived most or all of that period outside the country, and used middlemen -- who in some cases are paid as much as $25,000 -- to help create the illusion that they are in Canada.
Kenney said the crackdown stemmed from an extensive investigation launched last year, and that it continues.
"If they attempt to enter Canada or obtain citizenship, they will be subject to additional scrutiny, thanks to these investigations," he said.
All told, the minister said, some 11,000 people from 100 countries have been implicated in the scam.
"We have also flagged in our systems nearly 5,000 permanent residents who are known to have been implicated in residence fraud," Kenney said.