Changes to citizenship rules as of April 2009

A law changing the Citizenship Act came into effect on April 17, 2009. This law gives Canadian citizenship to certain people who lost it and others are recognized as citizens for the first time. To protect the value of Canadian citizenship for the future, in most cases the law limits Canadian citizenship by descent to the first generation of children born outside Canada to a Canadian parent.

People who were Canadian citizens when the law came into effect will keep their citizenship.

Why was the law changed?

The old law was criticized for being complicated and confusing and leading to uncertainty for many people about their citizenship status. The changes made in April 2009 simplify the rules by restoring or giving Canadian citizenship to many who never had it or lost it due to previous laws.

Furthermore, under the old rules, it was possible for Canadians to pass on their citizenship to endless generations born outside Canada. To protect the value of Canadian citizenship for the future, the 2009 law generally limits citizenship by descent to one generation born outside Canada.

Who became a citizen under the 2009 law?

People who became citizens when the first Citizenship Act came into force in 1947 and people born or naturalized in Canada after 1947 and who subsequently lost their citizenship will reacquire citizenship unless they formally renounced it or had it revoked because of fraud.

Also, people born abroad to a Canadian parent after 1947 who lost or never had citizenship due to former citizenship laws also became citizens under the 2009 law, but only if they had a Canadian parent who was born or naturalized in Canada. People who formally renounced their citizenship or had it revoked because of fraud did not automatically become citizens under the 2009 law.

Citizenship is automatic and goes back to the day the person was born or lost citizenship, depending on the situation. These people do not have to apply for citizenship, but may need to apply for a certificate to prove their citizenship.

Also, foreign-born persons adopted by Canadian parents between January 1, 1947, and February 15, 1977, while not citizens automatically, are eligible to apply for citizenship.

Who did not become a citizen after the changes?

People who were Canadian citizens when the law came into effect will keep their citizenship.

People did not become citizens after the changes include those who:

  • did not become citizens when the first Citizenship Act took effect on January 1, 1947;
  • were born in Canada but are not citizens because when they were born, one of their parents was a foreign diplomat and neither parent was a permanent resident or citizen of Canada;
  • renounced their citizenship as adults with the Canadian government;
  • had their citizenship revoked by the government because it was obtained by fraud;
  • were born outside Canada to a Canadian parent, who are not already citizens or who lost their citizenship in the past, and who were born in the second or next generation abroad (this includes people who failed to retain citizenship).

People who ceased to be Canadian citizens can apply to resume their Canadian citizenship.

Understanding the first generation limitation

After April 2009, Canadian parents can only pass citizenship to their children born outside of Canada if at least one parent:

The rules may also affect children adopted by Canadian parents outside Canada, depending on how the child obtained, or will obtain, citizenship. Learn more about the 2009 citizenship law and adoption.

Government workers and Canadian Forces personnel

All children born to a Canadian parent who is working outside the country for the Canadian federal or provincial governments, or serving in the Canadian Forces, will be Canadian, regardless of the generation in which they were born outside Canada.*

However, it is important to note that the children of diplomatic or military personnel will have limits on their ability to pass along Canadian citizenship to their own children if those children are born outside of Canada.

This means that their children born outside Canada (the grandchildren of diplomatic or military personnel) will not be Canadian, unless:

  • one Canadian parent is working outside the country for the Canadian federal and provincial governments, or serving in the Canadian military;
  • one parent was born or naturalized in Canada.

*This exception does not apply to Canadians employed as locally-engaged staff.

Example scenarios

The following scenarios explain how the change affects a child born to a Canadian parent outside Canada on or after April 17, 2009.

1) Jackie was born in Canada.

While living outside Canada, Jackie gives birth to Angela. Angela’s father is not a Canadian citizen. Angela is born in the first generation outside Canada and is a Canadian citizen at birth. Jackie and Angela return to Canada.

When in university outside Canada, Angela has a son, Edward. Edward’s father is not a Canadian citizen. Edward is not a citizen of Canada.

Angela may apply to sponsor Edward to immigrate to Canada as a permanent resident (if she intends to move back to Canada). If he is granted permanent residence, Angela can apply on her son’s behalf to be granted citizenship immediately.

*If Angela returns to Canada to give birth to her son, Edward would automatically be Canadian, by virtue of being born in Canada.

2) Sarah was born in Canada.

While living outside Canada, Sarah gives birth to Jessica. Jessica’s father is also a Canadian citizen. Jessica is a Canadian citizen at birth and is born in the first generation outside Canada. Sarah and Jessica continue to live outside Canada.

Years later, not long after she begins working for the private sector outside Canada, Jessica has a daughter, Chelsea, with her partner, Sam. Sam immigrated to Canada and was naturalized (granted citizenship) there years earlier. Chelsea is a Canadian citizen at birth and is born in the first generation outside Canada.

Chelsea remains outside Canada and when she grows up, she has a child named Peter. Peter’s father is not Canadian. Peter is not a citizen of Canada.

*If Chelsea comes to Canada to give birth to her son, Peter would automatically be Canadian, by virtue of being born in Canada.

Read more examples of people who are affected by the 2009 law.

What do I need to prove that I am a Canadian citizen?

Most of the time, people born in Canada may use their provincial or territorial birth certificate to prove their Canadian citizenship. People who were born in Canada and lost their citizenship, and who either resumed their citizenship in the past or regained it under the 2009 law, should be able to use their birth certificate as proof of citizenship.

People who were born outside Canada need a citizenship certificate to prove their Canadian citizenship. Find out how to apply for a citizenship certificate.

To find out if you are a citizen under Canada’s citizenship laws, use the Am I a Canadian Citizen? tool. These questions should take 15 to 20 minutes to answer.

You can also find information about how the April 2009 changes affected international adoptions.

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