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Canadian Citizenship by Descent

If you were born to one or more Canadian parents outside of Canada, you may be entitled to Canadian citizenship by descent.

For more information about Canadian citizenship, including expert advice and assistance to help determine your Canadian citizenship status, reach out to one of our expert immigration advisers today. Call us on +1 844 290 6312, or contact us online.

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    Overview of Canadian Citizenship by Descent

    There are a number of situations where Canadian citizenship may be conferred by descent.

    The most common of these involve children born abroad to parents who were also born in Canada, or obtained Canadian citizenship through naturalization.

    Other instances where citizenship may be conferred by descent involve circumstances where a child is born to Canadian parents who were not born in Canada, but were Canadian citizens at the time of the child’s birth.

    However, the circumstances in which citizenship may be conferred by descent are complex, with many exceptions and caveats in place.

    Obtaining Canadian citizenship by descent is one of four main ways that an individual can obtain Canadian citizenship. The other three ways are through naturalization, birth (specifically concerning Canada-born children), and through adoptive parents.

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    Canadian Citizenship for Births Outside Canada

    Children Born Prior to 2009

    If a child was born outside of Canada prior to 1977, there are a number of factors that need to be taken into account when considering the viability of citizenship being conferred by descent. For example, conferral of citizenship can depend on:

    • If one or more parents were considered Canadian at the time of birth
    • How the parents gained citizenship, if at all
    • If the birth was registered with the Canadian government and if the child received a Registration of Birth Abroad certificate or other document
    • If the child was a British subject if they were born before 1 April, 1949

    However, if a child was born outside of Canada between 15 February, 1977 and 17 April, 2009, they will be a Canadian citizen if at least one of their parents was also a Canadian citizen at the time of birth.

    Due to all or some of the above factors playing an important part in the citizenship conferral process, it may be necessary to rely on official guidance to determine citizenship eligibility, such as using the online ‘Am I a Canadian?’ questionnaire tool, or by applying for a Canadian citizenship certificate.

    Children Born After 2009 (First Generation Limit Rule)

    For children born outside of Canada from 17 April, 2009 onwards, Canadian citizenship can only be passed down one generation. This is known as the first generation limit rule.

    This rule means that if the child wasn’t already a Canadian citizen by April 17, 2009, and was born outside Canada to a Canadian parent, they will not be Canadian if their Canadian parent was:

    • Also born outside Canada to a Canadian parent
    • Granted Canadian citizenship under section 5.1, also known as the adoption provisions of the Citizenship Act

    This means that a child who belongs to the second generation of children born to a Canadian parent abroad would not be entitled to citizenship.

    Instead, Canadian citizenship would only be conferred to a person born outside of Canada if at least one of the legal parents or biological parents either:

    • Was born in Canada, or
    • Became a naturalized Canadian citizen before the child was born

    Additionally, as of July 2020, non-biological parents can now pass down their Canadian citizenship to their children who were born outside Canada if they’re the child’s legal parent at birth (i.e. if their name is on the child’s birth certificate).

    What Are the Exceptions to the First Generation Limit Rule?

    There are some exceptions to the first generation limit rule. Children born outside of Canada in the second or later generation may instead be entitled to citizenship if:

    • At the time of the child’s birth, their Canadian parent was employed outside Canada, other than as a locally engaged person (a crown servant):
      • With the Canadian Armed Forces
      • With the federal public administration
      • With the public service of a province or territory
    • At the time of the child’s Canadian parent’s birth or adoption, their Canadian grandparent was employed outside Canada, other than as a locally engaged person (a crown servant):
      • In the Canadian Armed Forces
      • With the federal public administration
      • With the public service of a province or territory

    The rules may also affect children with Canadian adoptive parents outside Canada, depending on how the child got, or will get, citizenship.

    Get in touch with our immigration lawyers for assistance with your Canadian citizenship queries today. Contact Us

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      What Were the Changes Made to Citizenship by Descent in 2009?

      In 2009, the Canadian government made a number of changes to the Canadian citizenship Act.

      At this time, people became Canadian citizens if they:

      • Lost their Canadian citizenship after they:
        • Became a Canadian citizen on January 1, 1947
        • Were born or naturalized in Canada on or after January 1, 1947
      • Were foreign-born and adopted by Canadian parents on or after January 1, 1947
      • Were born outside Canada in the first generation to a Canadian parent on or after January 1, 1947, and you lost or never had citizenship due to former citizenship provisions

      However, in 2009, people did not become a Canadian citizen if they:

      • Didn’t become a citizen on January 1, 1947
      • Were born in Canada but weren’t a Canadian citizen at birth because:
        • One of their parents was a foreign diplomat
        • Neither of their parents was a permanent resident or Canadian citizen
      • Were born outside Canada to a Canadian parent and were:
        • Not already a Canadian citizen or they had lost your citizenship in the past
        • Born in the second or subsequent generation (this includes people who failed to retain citizenship)

      In addition to these changes, the first generation limit rule was also brought into effect on 17 April, 2009. This rule didn’t take Canadian citizenship away from anyone who was a Canadian citizen before the rules came into effect.

      What Were the Changes Made to Citizenship by Descent in 2015?

      In 2015, the Canadian government made further changes to the Canadian citizenship Act.

      At this time, people became Canadian citizens if they were:

      • Born or naturalized in Canada before 1 January, 1947, but stopped being a British subject and didn’t become a citizen on that date
        • In Newfoundland and Labrador this date is 1 April, 1949
      • Born outside Canada in the first generation before 1 January, 1947, to a parent described above
        • In Newfoundland and Labrador this date is 1 April, 1949
      • Born outside Canada in the first generation before 1 January, 1947, to a parent who became a citizen on that date and the candidate didn’t become a citizen on that date
        • In Newfoundland and Labrador this date is April 1, 1949
      • Foreign-born and adopted before January 1, 1947, and at least one adoptive parent became a Canadian citizen on that date and the adoptive parent is eligible to pass on citizenship by descent
        • In Newfoundland and Labrador this date is April 1, 1949

      How Can I Check If I’m a Citizen or Prove My Citizenship Status?

      If you’d like to quickly check if you’re likely to be a Canadian citizen or not, you can use the Canadian government’s ‘Am I a Canadian?’ questionnaire tool online.

      Here, you’ll be asked various questions about the circumstances of your birth and your parents’ birth, citizenship, immigration and marriage status.

      However, note that this online questionnaire is only for reference and cannot be used as proof of citizenship.

      The only way to officially prove your citizenship status is to apply for a citizenship certificate from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

      You can apply for a Canadian citizenship certificate if you want to:

      • Pass down your Canadian citizenship to your child who was born outside Canada
      • Provide a document that proves your Canadian citizenship (such as to apply for a passport, job, pension, social insurance number, etc.)
      • Ensure that you’re a Canadian citizen

      You’ll need to provide a range of documentation and proof regarding you and your parents in order to receive a citizenship certificate.

      Canadian citizenship certificates cost CAN$ 75 to obtain.

      How Can Total Law Help?

      The process of conferring Canadian citizenship by descent can be one of the most complex in Canadian citizenship law, given the number of factors, laws and caveats that must be taken into consideration.

      Some of these may also involve delving deep into your own family tree to confirm details that may have significant impacts on your eligibility to obtain citizenship.

      If you require any additional assistance with the topic of Canadian citizenship, including if you need help determining your Canadian citizenship status, Total Law can help.

      We are expert legal advisers who specialise in Canadian immigration law. We can help you with your journey to Canadian citizenship, assisting you with the process of determining where you stand in regards to Canadian citizenship law, taking into account your genealogy and parental history, as well as your own background and what your rights are.

      We can also help if you’re a Canadian permanent resident looking to apply for citizenship through the process of naturalization, or if you wish to apply for a Canadian passport.

      For more information about the services we offer and what we can do for you, speak to one of our legal experts on +1 844 290 6312, or contact us online.

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                Frequently Asked Questions

                It usually takes around 17 months to receive a citizenship certificate.

                However, you may be able to apply for urgent processing if you need to receive your certificate more quickly due to some special circumstances, such as to:

                • Access benefits such as:
                  • A pension
                  • Health care
                  • A Social Insurance Number
                • Prove you’re a Canadian citizen to get a job
                • Travel to or from Canada because of a death or serious illness in your family

                You must also provide with your application:

                • An explanation letter
                • Supporting documents, such as:
                  • Your plane ticket or itinerary, with proof of payment
                  • A letter from your employer
                  • A letter from your school
                  • A doctor’s note
                  • A death certificate

                Note that even if you qualify for urgent processing, there will be no guarantee that you’ll receive your certificate on time.

                If you’re missing information that IRCC ask you on the citizenship application form, you will need to write ‘unknown’ in the spaces provided. If it doesn’t apply to your parents or grandparents, write ‘not applicable’ or ‘NA’.

                Note that if IRCC don’t have enough information about your parents or grandparents, your application may be delayed and/or they may not be able to assess your claim.

                Unfortunately, there are no provisions in place to allow spouses of Canadian citizens to automatically become Canadian citizens themselves.

                Instead, you’ll have to follow the same processes as other individuals looking to attain citizenship through naturalization.

                For example, you must be physically present in Canada for at least 1,095 days during the 5 years prior to the date of your application in order to be eligible.

                In addition to this, you must pass the citizenship test, have filed your taxes, and also prove your knowledge of English in order to apply.

                If you were born to a Canadian parent and aren’t eligible for citizenship by descent due to the first generation limit, you may either:

                • Apply for and get permanent residence and wait until you’re eligible to acquire Canadian citizenship by naturalization, or
                • Submit an application for a grant of citizenship under section 5 of the Citizenship Act

                If you need any further assistance with your Canadian citizenship application, including if you’re ineligible for Canadian citizenship due to the first generation limit rule or other laws, contact one of our expert immigration advisers today. Call us on +1 844 290 6312, or contact us online.