Changes to citizenship rules as of April 2009

A law changing the Citizenship Act came into effect on April 17, 2009. This law gave Canadian citizenship to certain people who lost it and others were 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 kept 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 simplified the rules by having restored or given 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 very first Canadian Citizenship Act came into force in 1947 and people born or naturalized in Canada after 1947 and who subsequently lost their citizenship reacquired 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 was automatic and went 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 a grant of citizenship under the adoption provisions of the Citizenship Act.

Who did not become a citizen when the law changed on April 17, 2009?

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

People did not become citizens when the law changed on April 17, 2009 are those who:

  • did not become citizens when the very first Canadian Citizenship Act took effect on January 1, 1947;
  • were born in Canada but were 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 were not already citizens or who lost their citizenship in the past, and who were born in the second or subsequent generation outside Canada (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

Since April 17, 2009, Canadian parents can only pass citizenship to their children born outside of Canada if, at the time of their birth:

  • one of the parents was born in Canada or
  • one of the parents became a Canadian citizen by being granted citizenship, also known as naturalization, (except for a grant of citizenship for adopted persons under section 5.1 of the Citizenship Act.).

Learn more about the 2009 citizenship law and adoption.

Exception to the first generation limit to citizenship by descent - Crown servants

The first generation limit to citizenship by descent does not apply to children born outside Canada in the second or subsequent generation if:

  • if at the time of the child’s birth, one of the child’s Canadian parents was employed outside Canada in or with the Canadian Armed Forces, the federal public administration or the public service of a province or territory, other than as a locally engaged person;
  • if at the time of the Canadian parent’s birth or adoption, one of the child’s Canadian grandparents was employed outside Canada in or with the Canadian Armed Forces, the federal public administration or public service of a province or territory, other than as a locally engaged person.

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 exception to the first generation limit to adopted persons in visiting the 2009 citizenship law and adoption.

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

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.

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 because he was born outside Canada, to a Canadian citizen, in the second generation.

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 had returned to Canada to give birth to her son, Edward would automatically be Canadian, due to being born in Canada.

2) Sarah

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 had immigrated to Canada and was naturalized (granted citizenship) years earlier and was a Canadian at the time Chelsea was born. Chelsea is a Canadian citizen at birth and is born in the first generation outside Canada due to her father having been naturalized Canadian before she was born.

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 because he is second generation born outside Canada.

If Chelsea had come to Canada to give birth to her son, Peter would automatically be Canadian, because he would have been born in Canada.

3) Marko

Marko was born outside Canada to a Canadian parent. Marko is a first generation born abroad Canadian Citizen.

While living outside Canada, Marko and his partner have a child named Kristy. Kristy’s mother is a permanent resident of Canada. Kristy’s father (Marko) was born in the first generation outside Canada to a Canadian parent. Kristy is therefore considered born in the second generation outside Canada and would not eligible for citizenship by descent through her father due to the first generation limit, unless one of her parents is working abroad as a Crown servant. This is in fact the case: at the time of Kristy’s birth, her father (Marko) was employed outside Canada in the Canadian Armed Forces, other than as a locally engaged person. This means that Kristy is entitled to citizenship by descent through her father.

4) Lidia

Lidia was born outside Canada to a Canadian parent. Lidia is a first generation born abroad Canadian Citizen.

While living outside Canada, Lidia gives birth to Paul. Paul’s father is not a Canadian citizen. Paul’s mother was born in the first generation outside Canada to a Canadian parent. Paul is therefore considered born in the second generation outside Canada and would not be entitled to citizenship by descent through his mother due to the first generation limit, unless his mother is working abroad as a serving Crown servant or his mother was born abroad because his mother’s parent was a serving Crown servant. In fact, this is the case: at the time of Lidia’s birth (Paul’s grandfather) worked outside Canada as a Crown servant, other than as a locally engaged person. This means that Paul is entitled to citizenship by descent through his grandfather.

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.

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

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