Canadian Citizenship

Canadian citizenship came to existence in 1947 when the Canadian Citizenship Act of 1946 took effect. Before that, Canadians were British subjects. Canadian independence was obtained over the years since the formation of the Canadian Confederation in 1867. The Second World War in particular gave rise to a desire amongst Canadians to have their country recognized as a sovereign state with a distinct citizenship.

On 1 January 1947, Canadian citizenship was conferred on most British subjects connected with Canada. Subsequently, on 1 April 1949, Canadian nationality law was extended to Newfoundland upon that country’s admission to the Confederation.

Canadian citizenship is typically obtained by birth in Canada, birth abroad when at least one parent is a Canadian citizen, or by adoption abroad by at least one Canadian citizen. It can also be granted to a permanent resident who lives in Canada for three out of four years and meets specific requirements.

Acquisition of Canadian Citizenship

There are four ways one can acquire Canadian citizenship: by birth in Canada, by descent, by adoption to at least one Canadian citizen or through naturalization.

Birth in Canada

In general, anyone born in Canada from 1947 onwards acquired Canadian citizenship at birth. Most persons born in Canada before 1947 acquired Canadian citizenship on 1 January 1947 if they were still living in Canada at that date. However, Canadian citizenship is not granted to a child born in Canada if, at the time of his/her birth, neither of his/her parents was a Canadian citizen or Canadian permanent resident.

Canadian Citizenship by Descent

Canadian citizenship by descent is granted automatically to any person born outside Canada after 15 February 1977. Any person whose Canadian parent or parents were also not born in Canada and obtained their citizenship at birth by descent (i.e. second generation born abroad) must have successfully applied to maintain their Canadian citizenship before their 28th birthday. People falling into that category who did not take steps to maintain their citizenship lost their citizenship on that birthday. With the new Bill coming into effect on 17 April 2009, there is no longer a requirement nor any allowance to apply to maintain citizenship.

Individuals can now only become Canadian citizens by descent if one of their parents was either a native-born citizen of Canada or a foreign-born but naturalized citizen of Canada. The new law limits citizenship by descent to one generation born outside Canada.

All individuals born outside Canada but within one generation of the native-born or naturalized citizen parent are automatically recognized as Canadian citizens.  The second generation born abroad, however, is not citizens of Canada at birth. The second generation born abroad can only gain Canadian citizenship Canada immigration; this can be done by their parents sponsoring them as dependent children.

Naturalization as a Canadian Citizen

A person who is a permanent resident may apply for Canadian citizenship by naturalization after three years of residency in Canada.

The requirements in full are that the person:

  • is a permanent resident
  • is aged 18 years or over
  • has lived in Canada for a total of three years out of the four years preceding the application for citizenship
  • knows about Canada (a test is required as part of the application process, but only if the applicant is between 18 and 54 years of age)
  • knows the rights and responsibilities of a Canadian citizen
  • is not a war criminal
  • is of good character
  • is able to speak English or French well enough to communicate with people

The naturalization requirements for children under 18 are different from those for adults. The child should be a permanent resident and a parent of the child should be a Canadian citizen or in the process of applying for Canadian citizenship. The residence and other requirements do not normally apply to those aged under 18.

Canadian Citizenship by Adoption

In 2006 the Canadian government introduced draft legislation which is designed to allow adopted children the right to apply for immediate citizenship. This bill received Royal Assent in 2007. According to the Bill, adopted children who attain citizenship without first obtaining permanent resident status are Canadian citizens. Also, the Minister shall grant citizenship to children who are adopted abroad after 14 February 1977.


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