Too Many New Immigrants Unaware Of Tax-Filing Requirements: Revenue Agency

Too many new immigrants unaware of tax-filing requirements: revenue agency

The Canadian Press
June 8, 2008

OTTAWA One of every three recent immigrants to Canada who have never filed an income-tax return were either unaware of the requirement or simply didn't know how, suggests internal research for the Canada Revenue Agency.

A study, based on focus groups involving more than 500 people, also found that almost half were unaware that all of their income from around the world, not just in Canada, must be declared.

“The survey results showed that the level of awareness of the requirement to report worldwide income was quite low,” says a report obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The study was based on 10 focus-group sessions held in the Toronto area in 2002. A total of 522 people participated, most of them referred by local schools offering English-language training.

Surveys filled out anonymously by the recent immigrants showed that most – almost two-thirds – had never filed a Canadian income-tax return. Many of these were low-or no-income students who were not required to file.

But 16.5 per cent failed to file because they didn't know they had to. And another 16.1 per cent did not complete the complex tax forms because they did not know how.

The relatively high numbers of poorly informed new Canadians suggested to researchers that an education campaign was sorely needed.

The agency's study – its most recent on the tax-filing behaviour of new immigrants – was a pilot project that was prompted by alarms the auditor general sounded in the 1990s that Canada was not collecting enough tax on foreign income.

The concern was compounded by consultations with tax professionals, who said many new immigrants know little about the Canadian tax system, especially the need to report foreign income.

The 2002 findings have since sparked a second round of focus-group studies, partly intended to help craft a multi-media advertising campaign designed to ensure recent immigrants know all the rules.

Last month, the survey firm Ipsos-Reid held six focus groups: two in the Punjabi language in Vancouver, two in Mandarin in Toronto, and two in Arabic in Montreal.

Forty-eight people took part in the sessions May 13-15, which the agency commissioned for $62,000. Analysis and results are expected in the late summer or early fall.

The focus groups were asked “to discuss reasons why they might not file, what type of information they require in order to help them file and what is the best way to provide the information,” says an agency planning document.

The tax department had hoped to launch its new ad campaign this summer, but the project has been postponed until after Ipsos-Reid reports its findings.

“We don't have any early (survey) results,” said agency spokeswoman Jacqueline Couture. “That ad campaign for now is not moving forward.”

The proposed multi-media advertising, expected to run until 2010, may include motivational messaging that paying taxes is a “duty” and the “Canadian way of life,” says an agency document.

Officials also want to raise the prospect of penalties.