Canada - Nationality and citizenship

Temporary residents enter Canada to work, to study, or for humanitarian and compassionate reasons. The temporary foreign worker program is designed to meet specific labour market shortages. It facilitates the entry of highly skilled temporary workers, while the movement of low skilled workers is more tightly controlled. Canada also manages a program for foreign students (whose ability to work while studying is clearly defined in regulation). In addition, refugee claimants—once it is determined that they have credible grounds for their claim—may obtain a generic work permit, which allows them to work in any job while their claim is being determined.

Jurisdiction over immigration is a joint responsibility under section 95 of the Constitution Act, 1867, and effective collaboration between the Government of Canada and the provinces and territories is essential to the successful management of the immigration program.

The successful settlement and integration of new immigrants is an important objective of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Immigration is fundamental to the development of Canada’s economy, society and culture, and Canada strives to be a world leader in maximizing its benefits. To create a stronger nation benefiting both newcomers and Canadians, Canada is one of the few countries with a managed immigration program directed toward newcomers ultimately becoming full citizens.

The acquisition of citizenship is a significant step in the integration process of newcomers. Granting citizenship to eligible applicants provides established newcomers with the full range of rights and encourages them to fulfill the responsibilities of citizenship. Citizenship acquisition also fosters a greater sense of belonging to Canada and allows newcomers to share a broader sense of community with all Canadians while supporting their full participation in all aspects of Canadian society.

A new law amending the Citizenship Act came into effect on April 17, 2009. Canada’s citizenship legislation confers citizenship to those born on Canadian soil and allows permanent residents who are at least 18 years of age to apply for citizenship after at least three years of residency in the past four years before applying (although they must meet certain other criteria as well). Children do not need to meet this requirement. The new law gives Canadian citizenship to certain people who lost it and to others who are recognized as citizens for the first time. It also protects the value of citizenship by limiting citizenship by descent to one generation outside Canada

According to section 3 of the Citizenship Act, a person is a citizen of Canada if:

  • the person was born in Canada after February 14, 1977;
  • the person was born outside Canada after February 14, 1977 and at the time of his birth one of his parents, other than a parent who adopted him, was a citizen;
  • the person has been granted or acquired citizenship pursuant to section 5 or 11 and, in the case of a person who is fourteen years of age or over on the day that he is granted citizenship, he has taken the oath of citizenship;
  • the person was a citizen immediately before February 15, 1977;
  • the person was entitled, immediately before February 15, 1977, to become a citizen under paragraph 5(1)(b) of the former Act;
  • before the coming into force of this regulation, the person ceased to be a citizen;
  • the person was born outside Canada before February 15, 1977 to a parent who was a citizen at the time of the birth and the person did not, before the coming into force of this regulation, become a citizen;
  • the person was granted citizenship under section 5, as it read before the coming into force of this regulation;
  • under prior legislation, the person had been a citizen other than by way of grant, ceased to be a citizen.

Loss of Citizenship

According to section 7 of the Citizenship Act a person who is a citizen shall not cease to be a citizen except for the renunciation of citizenship. A citizen of Canada may, on application, renounce his citizenship if he or she:

  1. is a citizen of a country other than Canada or, if his application is accepted, will become a citizen of a country other than Canada;
  2. is not the subject of a declaration by the Governor in Council made pursuant to section 20 of the Citizenship Act; (c) is not a minor;
  3. is not prevented from understanding the significance of renouncing citizenship by reason of the person having a mental disability; and
  4. does not reside in Canada.


To be eligible to become a Canadian citizen, a person must meet the requirements in all of the following areas: age, permanent resident status, time lived in Canada, language abilities, criminal history (prohibitions) and knowledge of Canada.

Age, must be at least 18 years old to apply for Canadian citizenship. To apply for citizenship for a child under 18, the following conditions have to be met: a) the person applying is the child’s parent, adoptive parent or legal guardian; b) the child is a permanent resident, but does not need to have lived in Canada for three years; and c) one parent is already a Canadian citizen or is applying to become a citizen at the same time. This also applies to adoptive parents.

Permanent resident status, to become a Canadian citizen, the applicant must have permanent resident status in Canada, and that status must not be in doubt. This means that the applicant must not be the subject of an immigration investigation, an immigration inquiry or a removal order (an order from Canadian officials to leave Canada).

Time lived in Canada; to become a Canadian citizen, adults must have lived in Canada for at least three years (1,095 days) in the past four years before applying. Children under the age of 18 do not need to meet this requirement. The applicant may be able to count the time spent in Canada before becoming a permanent resident if that time falls within the four-year period.

Language abilities, Canada has two official languages—English and French. The applicant needs to have adequate knowledge of one of these two languages in order to become a Canadian citizen.

The citizenship knowledge test and the interaction with the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) staff will be used to assess if the applicant has an adequate ability to communicate in either English or French. CIC staff will observe the ability to understand basic spoken statements and questions, and the ability to communicate basic information or respond to questions.

Criminal history – prohibitions to become a Citizen, the applicant cannot become a citizen if he or she has been convicted of an indictable (criminal) offence or an offence under the Citizenship Act in the three years before the application;  if the applicant is currently charged with an indictable offence or an offence under the Citizenship Act;  if the applicant is in prison, on parole, on probation or under a removal order ordered by Canadian officials to leave Canada, or if the applicant is under investigation for, is charged with, or has been convicted of a war crime or a crime against humanity; or the applicant has had Canadian citizenship taken away in the past five years.

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms (which was enshrined in Canada’s constitution in 1982) “limits the ability of governments to pass laws or take actions that discriminate or infringe on human rights.” The Charter articulates the specific rights and freedoms which are protected. As a result of the Charter, permanent residents in Canada – who do not have Canadian citizenship – have virtually all the rights and freedoms of citizens with but a few key exceptions. Running for public office, voting and holding a job in the public service are restricted to Canadian citizens.