Citizenship law and adoption

If you are a Canadian citizen who plans to or has already adopted a child outside Canada, changes to citizenship law could affect you and your child. This depends on how your adopted child obtained—or will obtain—his or her citizenship.

Understanding the change

Recent legislative changes impact Canadian parents’ ability to pass on citizenship to children they adopt who are born outside Canada.

Children adopted outside Canada

Children born outside Canada who are adopted by Canadian parents have two routes to citizenship.

Route #1: Citizenship by grant through direct route.

Children who were born outside Canada and adopted, can become citizens without having to immigrate to Canada. However, at least one of the adopting parents must have been  a Canadian citizen at the time of the adoption, or for adoptions that took place prior to January 1, 1947, the person had to have at least one adoptive parent who became a Canadian citizen on January 1, 1947 (or April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador for adoptions that took place prior to April 1, 1949); and who is eligible to pass on citizenship by descent.

Adopted people who become citizens through the direct route are limited in their ability to pass citizenship to their own children as a result of the first generation limit to citizenship by descent, unless the other parent is eligible to pass on citizenship.

Under the direct route, adopted persons will not be able to:

  • pass on their citizenship to any children he or she later has outside Canada; or
  • apply for a direct grant for any foreign born children he or she later adopts, unless the other adoptive parent is a Canadian citizen who is eligible to pass on Canadian citizenship by descent.

Learn more about who can apply for the citizenship process.

Refer to section below on “Exception to the first generation limit to citizenship for adopted persons”.

The first generation limit to citizenship for adopted persons

This first generation limit to Canadian citizenship by descent applies to foreign-born individuals adopted by a person who was a Canadian citizen at the time of the adoption, as well as to those whose adoption took place prior to January 1, 1947 by a person who became a Canadian citizen on January 1, 1947 (or April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador for adoptions that took place prior to April 1, 1949). This means that children born outside Canada and adopted by a Canadian citizen are not eligible for a grant of Canadian citizenship under section 5.1, the adoption provisions of the Citizenship Act, if:

  • their adoptive Canadian citizen parent was born outside Canada to a Canadian citizen; or
  • their adoptive Canadian citizen parent was granted Canadian citizenship under section 5.1, the adoption provisions of the Citizenship Act

unless their adoptive Canadian citizen parent or grandparent was employed as described in one of the following exceptions to the first generation limit.

Exceptions to the first generation limit to citizenship for adopted persons – Crown servants:

There are two exceptions to the first generation limit for adopted children. Adopted children born abroad in the second or subsequent generation may be eligible for a grant of citizenship through the direct route (explained above) if:

  1. at the time of the person’s adoption, either of the person’s adoptive 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 (a Crown servant);
  2. at the time of either of the adoptive parents’ birth or adoption, one of their parents (the adopted person’s grandparents) 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 (a Crown Servant).

Route #2: Regular citizenship grant (naturalization)

Adoptive parents can sponsor their child to immigrate to Canada as a permanent resident. Once the child's permanent residence status is granted, the normal process of applying for citizenship can then be followed:

  • The child’s parents can apply for the child to become a citizen, or
  • When the child turns 18, the child can apply on his or her own.

This is called citizenship by naturalization.

People adopted outside Canada who become naturalized citizens can pass citizenship to their children, even if their children are born outside Canada. If they adopt children from outside Canada, those adopted children would be eligible for a grant of citizenship through the direct route.

Learn more about sponsoring an adopted child to immigrate to Canada.

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