Canadian Citizenship by Descent

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A Canadian citizen by descent is, generally speaking, a person born outside Canada who has acquired Canadian citizenship based on a Canadian parent. It does not include persons who have migrated to Canada and become naturalised Canadian citizens (also known as citizenship by grant).

Canadian law was substantially amended on 17 April 2009. The changes were, as a rule, retrospective, except that a person who was a Canadian citizen under previous law did not lose that status under the new law.

Overview of Canadian citizenship by descent

  • Canadian citizenship by descent automatically acquired at birth.
  • It is necessary to have a parent who was a Canadian citizen at the time the child is born. A parent's subsequent acquisition of Canadian citizenship does not count.
  • However, the reforms of April 2009 have retrospectively conferred Canadian citizenship on many people. If your parent is deemed under the 2009 law to have been a Canadian citizen when you were born, then you may be a Canadian citizen by descent, if your parent was born or naturalised in Canada.
    • Alternatively, you can see if the old pre-2009 law meant your parent was Canadian when you were born. If so, the old law may still benefit you.
  • Application for a Canadian passport or citizenship card is an application for evidence of Canadian citizenship, not for Canadian citizenship itself.
  • Since 17 April 2009, eligibility for Canadian citizenship by descent is restricted to the first generation born outside Canada. There is an exception for those whose parents are employed outside Canada by the federal Canadian government, or a provincial/territorial government.

Eligbility for Canadian citizenship by descent

A person is a Canadian citizen by descent if that person was born outside Canada:

  • to a Canadian parent before 1 January 1947 and became a Canadian citizen on 1 January 1947;
  • to a Canadian parent (usually a married Canadian father, or an unmarried mother) between 1 January 1947 and 14 February 1977, and registered as a Canadian citizen by descent by application before 14 August 2004. Such person was deemed under the old law to have been a Canadian citizen by descent retrospective to birth.
  • to a Canadian mother or an unmarried Canadian father between 1 January 1947 and 14 February 1977, and naturalised as a Canadian citizen under special provisions in the Citizenship Act by application made before 14 August 2004 (note that under the old law, such persons were naturalised Canadian citizens only from date of grant of such citizenship, and not citizens by descent).
  • to a Canadian born or naturalised parent on or after 15 February 1977
    • effective 17 April 2009, a
  • between 15 February 1977 and 16 April 1981, to a parent who was a Canadian citizen by descent, and that person successfully applied to retain Canadian citizenship by age 28;
  • between 17 April 1981 and 16 April 2009 to a parent who was a Canadian citizen by descent.

Restriction on passing on citizenship

  • The one difference between an Canadian citizen by descent and otherwise is that children born outside Canada are not automatically entitled to Canadian citizenship by descent
  • Unless the other parent is Canadian born or naturalised; or
  • The parents are Canadian recruited employees of the federal or provincial public services.
  • The reason for this restriction is to prevent Canadian citizenship passing endlessly down the generations to those who may have little or no connection with Canada. It ensures that there is a real or ongoing connection with Canada.
  • The restriction does not apply where a child is born in Canada. In other words, if a child is born in Canada to an Canadian citizen (by descent) parent, then the child is a Canadian citizen automatically (otherwise than by descent).

I'm a Canadian citizen but my child is not!

  • There's still hope! As a Canadian citizen you are entitled to sponsor your child to migrate to Canada (if child is still "dependent" in Immigration terms).
  • If child is under 18 (and with a Canadian parent), child can immediately be naturalised as a Canadian citizen after arriving as a permanent resident in Canada.
  • The usual 3 year residence requirement does not apply.
  • Child would become a Canadian citizen otherwise than by descent.
  • In order to sponsor, parent must normally intend to move back to Canada. In compassionate cases, especially if child is stateless or has especially strong ties to Canada, CIC may waive this requirement.

My child is a Canadian citizen by descent, what can I do?

  • Not much!
  • There is no way to switch from being a Canadian citizen by descent to Canadian otherwise than by descent.
  • Best you can do is keep in touch with any developments in Canadian law and ensure child is aware of the issue when older.